The 2020 Uni Watch College Football Season Preview
Not everyone is playing. But among those who are, there is much to share.
Don’t look now, but it’s late August, which means college football season is now upon us. Rah-rah, sis-boom-bah!
Granted, those cheers will be a bit muted this year. As you’ve probably heard, four FBS conferences — the Big Ten, MAC, Mountain West and Pac-12 — have decided not to play football this fall due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the remaining five conferences — the ACC, American Athletic, Big 12, SEC and Sun Belt — are still planning to play, as are most of the FBS independent schools. In all, well over half of the 130 FBS schools still plan to hit the gridiron this season. And that means it’s time for the annual Uni Watch College Football Season Preview, where we run down all of the uniform and logo changes you can expect to see this year, along with related news regarding field designs, stadium names and so on.
Before we get to our team-by-team breakdown, there are three new things you can expect to see across the college football landscape this season:
1. Face coverings. Most players will be wearing some sort of face shield to help lessen the risk of coronavirus spread. Many schools, for example, have been experimenting with clear shields that fit into their players’ facemasks. These are similar to the upper-face visors we’re all used to seeing, but they extend down to the lower area of the mask:
In addition, some players may opt to wear cloth face masks, and masks will be the norm for coaches, other sideline personnel and officials.
2. Social justice messaging. Just as the pandemic will affect the look of the sport this season, so will the summer’s other big 2020 storyline: the uprising of civil justice protests. A new NCAA policy will allow players in all sports, including football, to wear a front-jersey patch “to celebrate or memorialize people, events or other causes.” In addition, players will have the option of replacing their names on the back of their jerseys with “names/words intended to celebrate or memorialize people, events or other causes” (similar to what many NBA players did when that league recently restarted its season).
Although the new rule was announced in late July, there hasn’t yet been any news about specific players wearing specific messaging, so we’ll have to wait and see how that plays out. Also, as you’ll see when you scroll through our team-by-team breakdown later in this article, a few schools are making additional team-wide uni-related gestures on the social justice front.
3. Heroes of zero. Thanks to a new rule change, No. 0 is now a legal uni number, and a highly coveted one at that. We’ll call out some of the players who’ll be wearing it this season in the team-by-team breakdown that follows.
Speaking of which: As usual, our season preview is formatted by conference, but this year we’re including only the conferences and independents that will be playing this fall. If a school unveiled new uniforms and then ended up having its season postponed (as happened to the Big Ten’s Rutgers and the Mountain West’s New Mexico), we’ll save those designs for next year.
All FBS schools that are still planning to play were contacted during the preparation of this article. Schools that are not listed in the team-by-team breakdown either did not respond, reported that they have no uniform changes for the coming season or are not yet at liberty to discuss uni changes that are still in the works. But with many of the conferences delaying their season openers by a week or two, we may see more unveilings in the days to come. Moreover, there will likely be additional new designs unveiled during the season — blackout, whiteout, throwback, camouflage and more — so if your favorite school isn’t listed here, that doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t be making some uni-related news later this fall.
Okay, enough preliminaries. Ready to dive in? Deep breath — here we go.
ACC (season begins Sept. 10)
Clemson is celebrating its 125th season this year and is marking the occasion with a rear helmet decal:
One other item of note: The Tigers usually wear orange pants for any game in which a championship is on the line, including the ACC Coastal Division championship and the annual unofficial “state championship” game against SEC school South Carolina. But the ACC will not have divisions this season and the SEC has opted out of non-conference games, so those two orange-legged occasions won’t apply this year.
Ever since FSU changed the uni numbers on its garnet jerseys from white to gold in 2014, fans have been clamoring for the return of the white numbers. This year they’re finally getting their wish (additional info here):
Meanwhile: Running back Jashaun Corbin and defensive lineman Fabien Lovett will be the first FSU players to wear No. 0. Here’s how it’ll look on Corbin’s jersey:
In addition, players who maintain at least a 3.0 grade point average will reportedly get to wear a “Seminole Scholar” patch. A team spokesperson confirmed this plan but said the patch design is not yet available.
Interesting move by Tech coach Geoff Collins, who awarded the newly eligible No. 0 to walk-on defensive tackle Djimon Brooks — and also gave him a full scholarship (additional info here):
Meanwhile: No more grass at Bobby Dodd Stadium, as Tech has installed a new synthetic turf field.
Cardinals are red, but you wouldn’t know it from Louisville’s latest helmet option, which puts a black logo on a black shell and adds a black mask for good (or maybe bad) measure:
Courtesy of the new NCAA uni-numbering rules, defensive back Ja’Qurious Conley is poised to become the first Tar Heel ever to wear No. 0:
Also: Thanks to a large donation, the field at UNC’s Kenan Memorial Stadium — but not the stadium itself — has a new name. It will now be known as Chris Smith Field. Just to make things extra-confusing, they’ve put the name at the top of the stadium architecture, not down on the field (additional info here):
Notre Dame is normally an FBS independent. But with their original schedule in tatters due to the disruption caused by the pandemic, the Irish have opted to play this season as a member of the ACC.
Part of that now-scrapped original schedule included a game against Wisconsin on Oct. 3 at Lambeau Field, home of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. That game was slated to be part of Notre Dame’s long-running Shamrock Series, which has always featured unusual alternate uniforms. While that game will no longer take place (Wisconsin is part of the Big Ten and therefore won’t be playing this fall), it’s not yet clear what, if anything, will become of the alternate unis that were presumably designed for the occasion. Mostly likely they’ll be held until the game can be rescheduled for 2021 or beyond.
No reported uniform changes for Syracuse this season, but it’s worth noting that the Carrier Dome has been undergoing renovations and is finally getting a real roof to replace the inflatable lid it’s had for all these years:
Lots of news for the Cavaliers. First, the school’s crossed-sabres logo, which appears on one side of the football team’s helmets, was revised in April and then re-revised in June after complaints that the sabres’ handles reference a slavery-related fixture on the UVa campus:
Also, the stripes on the team’s navy helmets are now painted on. This matches the treatment of the white helmets, which has had painted striping for some time. The navy lids previously used colored tape for some reason:
Speaking of the helmets: UVa has never used merit decals — the little helmet stickers that some teams award to players for making big plays, meeting training goals and so on — but several players have been spotted wearing them during preseason practices:
It’s not yet clear whether this is just a preseason thing or if the Cavs will actually be awarding merit decals throughout the season. A team spokesperson declined to comment, noting that head coach Bronco Mendenhall hadn’t yet announced anything on this front. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile: Linebacker Zane Zandier, who previously wore No. 33, will become the first UVa player to wear No. 0:
And finally, speaking of uni numbers, here’s an oddity: Quarterbacks Iraken Armstead and Keytaon Thompson have chosen to wear Nos. 98 and 99, respectively.
Running back Jalen Holston, who previously wore No. 13, will become the first Hokie to wear No. 0 (additional info here):
Thanks to a bank merger, the Demon Deacons’ stadium has a new advertised name this season.
AMERICAN ATHLETIC (season begins Sept. 5)
Houston has added a “BY” helmet decal for Bill Yeoman, who coached the Cougars from 1962 through 1986 and died earlier this month:
Also: Defensive back Grant Stuard, who previously wore No. 3, is about to become the first Cougar to wear No. 0 on the field (wonder if he’ll change his Twitter handle, which is @GrantStuard_3):
The Tigers have responded to this summer’s civil justice protests by adding a “BLM” decal to the back of their helmets for 2020:
The annual Army-Navy game is still on the 2020 schedule for Dec. 12 at West Point, and you can be sure that the Midshipmen will have some sort of special uniform for that game. Expect it to be unveiled during the week or two prior to the game.
Tulane’s blue alternate jerseys have been upgraded to Nike’s Vapor Untouchable template. They feature larger numerals than the previous blue set and, for the first time, include the players’ names on the back:
In addition, the Green Wave have swapped out their field surface for new turf with a new design:
UCF’s stadium has had a series of official corporate-advertised names (most recently Spectrum Stadium), but has long been nicknamed the Bounce House because of the way it rocks back and forth when fans start jumping around. As of Aug. 1, however, that moniker became more than a nickname. With the school in between naming-rights partners, the stadium’s official name is now the Bounce House. Here’s hoping it stays that way for a long time.
BIG 12 (season begins Sept. 12)
Wide receiver R.J. Sneed will have the honor of being the first player in Baylor history to wear No. 0:
Wide receiver Tarik Black — a transfer from Michigan — will become the first player in Longhorns history to wear No. 0:
Meanwhile, the field at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, which was previously named after university donor Joe Jamail, will now be named Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams Field, after the pair of former Longhorns greats. The renaming, intended as an acknowledgment of this summer’s civil justice uprising, came at the suggestion of the Jamail family.
Finally, a spokesperson says, “We may have something new during the year — check back once season starts!”
No uniform changes for WVU this year, but the Mountaineers do have a new videoboard in their stadium. It’s not yet clear if any fans will be allowed inside to see it.
CONFERENCE USA (season begins Sept. 12)
UNC-Charlotte’s athletics department unveiled a new pickaxe-themed brand identity over the summer (which apparently raised a few eyebrows among UTEP fans). The new branding’s most visible manifestation is the school’s new football helmet (additional info here):
New uniforms are also on the way — hopefully in time for the team’s season opener against Appalachian State on Sept. 12. If not, last year’s uniforms will be used as a stopgap.
Meanwhile, a team spokesperson says that while there are no changes to the team’s field design this year, expect to see some changes in 2021.
The FAU football program is celebrating its 20th season with a commemorative logo. A spokesperson says it may be worn as a rear-helmet decal, although that has not yet been finalized:
In addition, the spokesperson says the Owls will have new uniforms “forthcoming soon,” so stay tuned.
Good move by the Marshall, which is changing the sleeves on its green jerseys from black to green:
The Mean Green will be a little bit meaner this year, because they’ve designated their “Mean” Joe Greene-era 1967 throwbacks as their only green uniform option:
Speaking of that throwback uni, here’s a great detail on the helmet, from a team spokesperson: “Back in the day, the ‘NT’ logo on the helmet was done with strips of electrical tape, causing imperfections in the logo. Our head of equipment made several variations of the throwback logo decal to simulate those rips/cuts, to recreate that appearance.”
Also: No photos yet, but the team will be introducing a white throwback jersey to replace the primary white jersey that’s been worn for the past three seasons. The new white design is basically a color-inverted version of the green throwback, but with the school’s “diving eagle” logo at the base of the collar.
In addition, UNT plans to unveil another white throwback jersey, with a separate helmet design, for a game in September, although the team is keeping details under wraps for now. The existing black and gray alternate jerseys from recent years are still in the mix as well.
The annual Army-Navy game is slated for Dec. 12 at West Point, so you can expect the Black Knights to have some sort of special uniform design for that game. Expect it to be unveiled sometime in the week or two leading up to the game.
New Mexico State
The Aggies have added new retro-flavored secondary logo that revives turquoise as an accent color. The logo originally appeared on the school’s late-1970s basketball uniforms, but has now been approved for use throughout the university’s athletics program (additional info here):
SEC (season begins Sept. 26)
The Crimson Tide’s uniforms almost never change, but ’Bama fans can still geek out over the team’s new locker room, which sets a new standard in college football luxe facilities (additional info here, here and here):
Auburn is another school whose uniforms tend to stay the course, but there’ll be a new sight on the field this year, as linebacker Owen Pappoe becomes the first Tiger to wear No. 0:
Wideout Ja’Quavion Fraziars, who previously wore No. 10, is dropping the first numeral to become the inaugural No. 0 in Gators history:
Also worth noting: The school’s longtime “Gator Bait” cheer — a call-and-response between the school’s band and fans — is being discontinued due to the phrase’s racist history.
The Rebels plan to retire Eli Manning’s No. 10 during the Sept. 19 game against Auburn. Manning will become the third Ole Miss player to have his number enshrined, following his father, Archie (No. 18), and Chucky Mullins (No. 38).
After several seasons of wearing pants with no stripes or checkerboard stripes, the Vols are bringing back their classic double-striping, which they never should have moved away from to begin with:
Also: Head coach Jeremy Pruitt announced over the summer that the team would wear black jerseys for the game against Kentucky on Nov. 7, with the jerseys then being auctioned off to benefit Black Lives Matter (additional info here):
The best upgrade of the year comes out of College Station, where the Aggies have scrapped all the extraneous gewgaws and gotten back to basics. No more shoulder/sleeve piping, no more beveling on the numbers, the return of the glossy helmet shells with the white masks — it’s all a win-win-win (additional info and photos here and here):
SUN BELT (season begins Sept. 5)
The Sun Belt has a new conference logo this season. Expect to see all the member schools wearing it as a jersey patch (additional info here):
The Panthers’ stadium — originally called Centennial Olympic Stadium, then Turner Field, and then Georgia State Stadium — has yet another name. Thanks to a new naming rights deal, the facility will be known for the next 15 years as Center Parc Stadium.
The Ragin’ Cajuns have updated their black alternate uniform. If you watch the video in the first tweet that follows, you’ll see that the new design features some unfortunate details on the sleeves and, especially, the pants:
No visuals yet, but the Bobcats plan to have new uniforms this season. Photos should be available by sometime next week.
The Trojans have a new helmet color. They’re calling it “smoke,” but come on — it’s silver. By any name, though, it looks sharp:
- Some photo shoots from recent weeks have shown players wearing jerseys with some residue from the removal of last year’s college football 150th-anniversary patch. So if you see some weird schmutz on a player’s upper-chest area, that’s likely why.
- Due to college football’s massive roster sizes and positional uni-numbering restrictions, schools have often had two or even three players on the roster wearing the same number. That’s always been fine as long as multiple same-numbered players aren’t on the field simultaneously. This year, in an effort to reduce the potential for confusion, the number of players who can wear a given number has been capped at two.
- In a sign of the times, several schools are switching to digital-only ticketing for 2020. It makes sense for a pandemic-stricken world in which we’re all trying to limit physical contact, but the loss of ticket stubs — a key aspect of sports design — is a bit of a shame. Schools that have announced the digital-only format include Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, LSU and Ole Miss. In addition, Mississippi State is “strongly encouraging” fans to go digital, although print-at-home is still an option.
- To allow for more social distancing, the sideline areas where players and staff are permitted to stand during games will be extended by 20 yards. Instead of running from one 25-yard line to the other, they will now run from the 15 to the 15.
And there you have it. Did we miss anything? Yeah, probably. If so, you know what to do. Enjoy the season, and here’s hoping everyone stays safe and well, both on and off the field.
Paul Lukas will have his annual NFL Season Preview in early September. If you like this article, you’ll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for his mailing list so you won’t miss any of his future InsideHook columns. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, check out his Uni Watch merchandise, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.
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