The 2021 Uni Watch College Football Season Preview
A comprehensive rundown of the new uniforms, helmets, patches, naming rights and more for all 130 FBS programs
Players are lacing up their cleats and marching bands are tuning up their instruments, which can mean only one thing: Another college football season is upon us.
While a handful of schools began their schedules last weekend (the so-called Week 0), the official start of the season is this Saturday, Sept. 4. And that means it’s time for the annual Uni Watch College Football Season Preview, your definitive guide to all of this season’s new uniforms, logos, field designs and related issues.
All 130 FBS teams were contacted during the preparation of this article. More than half of them are listed in the team-by-team rundown that follows; schools not listed either didn’t respond, reported that they have no uniform changes this year, or are not yet at liberty to discuss uni changes that are still in the works. As usual, however, there will likely be additional new designs unveiled during the season — blackout, whiteout, throwback, camouflage and more — so even if your favorite team isn’t listed here, they could still be making some uni-related news later this fall.
As per longstanding custom, this report is arranged alphabetically by conference, with the schools listed alphabetically within conference. Ready to dive in? Deep breath — here we go.
Unusual situation at BC, where the athletic department has inked a new apparel deal with local brand New Balance — except for the football team, which is now being outfitted by Adidas after a decade with Under Armour. Nothing fancy about the Eagles’ new uniforms, and that’s all to the good:
Also: Despite the change in uniform outfitters, BC will continue its annual ritual of wearing the “red bandana” uniforms in honor of school alum and fallen Sept. 11 hero Welles Crowther. Head coach Jeff Hafley said earlier this year that the new red bandana design will “have a little bit more pop to it.” Although no official announcement or unveiling has yet taken place, it seems like a safe bet that this uni will be worn for the Sept. 11 game at UMass — stay tuned.
The Tigers are one of many ACC teams that are making changes to their helmet bumper graphics this season. In Clemson’s case, the front bumper, which has featured the ACC logo for many years, will now have “Tigers.”
The Blue Devils upgraded their blue and white jerseys to Nike’s Vapor Untouchable tailoring template in 2018. This year the black alternate jersey is finally getting the same treatment:
New facemask color for FSU, which is scrapping the dark garnet cages in favor of a brighter, more crimson shade:
Also-also: The Seminoles have a new 75th-season logo. So far there’s no indication that it will be worn on the uniform, although a jersey patch or at least a rear-helmet decal seems plausible. Similarly, some sort of uni-borne memorial for former coach Bobby Bowden, who died on Aug. 8, seems likely, but no word on that yet.
Update: As expected, FSU has added a uni-borne tribute to Bobby Bowden. In fact, they’ve aded several of them, including a helmet decal, a rear-bumper design, a memorial logo on the field and more. You can read all about it here.
Several small changes this year for Tech, beginning with, of course, the helmet bumpers. They previously had “ACC” on the front and “Atlanta” on the back, but will now have a multicolored “ATL” on the front and “Together” on the back:
Second, in a cross-sport gesture, the Yellow Jackets have retired No. 44 for the 2021 season in honor of baseball slugger Henry Aaron, who died earlier this year. Linebacker Quez Jackson, who wore that number last season, is switching to No. 4.
Also, the unity patch that the team added last year to promote social justice is being retained for 2021.
You know that wing pattern on the Cardinals’ sleeves? The feathers have been expanded across a larger portion of the jersey, but the pattern is much more subtle now — not bad:
Meanwhile: No visuals yet, but the team will reportedly be adding a memorial helmet decal for former coach Howard Schnellenberger.
Look closely at that video and you can see that the Canes are another ACC team with a new helmet bumper graphic, changing from the conference logo to “Miami.”
Fun move by the Wolfpack, who’ll be wearing the retro-themed “Slobbering Wolf” logo, set against a brick wall background pattern, for the season opener against USF (additional info here):
This helmet will be worn as part of a new solid-charcoal uniform with brick-patterned jersey numbers (additional info here):
Also: You can learn a lot about the Tar Heels’ uniforms by checking out this excellent podcast interview with UNC equipment manager Jason Freeman. Lots of good stuff in there!
Since introducing their current uni set in 2019, the Panthers have worn yellow pants and blue pants. But potential recruit Tyreese Fearbry was photographed a few months ago wearing Pitt’s white jersey with a pair of previously unseen white pants. This doesn’t necessarily mean the Panthers will wear the white britches this season, or ever (schools often try to entice recruiting targets with special uni elements that never make it onto the field), but it’s interesting to see that they’ve been experimenting with the white-over-white look.
The Orange are adding a memorial patch for former running back Floyd Little, who died over the winter:
With Lane Stadium back at full capacity this season, the Hokies are resuming their popular “Effect” games, with fans encouraged to wear T-shirts of a certain team color. The Orange Effect game will be the season opener against North Carolina on Sept. 3, followed by the White Effect game (Middle Tennessee State, Sept. 11), the striped Hokie Effect game (Notre Dame, Oct. 9) and Maroon Effect game (Pitt, Oct. 16).
No announced uni changes for the Bearcats, but they’re making a change to their field, which will have season-long black end zones for the first time in team history.
Houston Athletics is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. The football team will likely have some retro-flavored uniforms at some point this season, but the only thing they’re ready to share for now is an anniversary helmet decal.
Speaking of helmet decals, the Cougars are retaining their “Equality” decal from last season, with a tiny design tweak.
As usual, Navy will also have a special one-off design for the annual game against Army. No word yet on what that will look like, but it’ll be hard to top the Marines-themed design.
As for Navy’s regular uniforms, they’ll have slightly larger chest lettering and other small changes this season.
In an attempt to forge a closer connection with their home city, the Mustangs introduced a white jersey with a “Dallas” chest script in 2019. This year they’re adding a blue version to the rotation:
This uniform will be worn twice this season — at home against North Texas on Sept. 11 and on the road at TCU on Sept. 25.
Also: While this won’t have an effect on-field, SMU Athletics has tweaked its logo.
New helmet bumpers for the Tulsa this season. The old ones had hurricane warning flags on the front and were blank on the back, while the new ones have “Tulsa” on the front and “Hurricane” on the back:
As you can see in that video, they’re also keeping the racial justice decal that they added last season.
No details yet, but the Knights will apparently be wearing another space-themed alternate uniform this season, and they’ve hinted that this one will be inspired by the space shuttle Discovery.
“The Bounce House,” which was originally the nickname of UCF’s stadium and then became the official name in 2020, will be relegated back to nickname status this year, as the school has entered into a new naming rights deal for the facility.
Also: When UCF had its annual spring game back in April, players wore their Twitter handles, instead of their surnames, on the back of their jerseys.
The Illini’s new home uniforms are similar to last year’s, but with several small adjustments, primarily to the helmets. First, the navy “I” logo on the helmet now has a white outline. Second, the helmet now has center striping. Third, the navy facemask has been changed to white. Fourth, the front helmet bumper now reads, “FamILLy.” And finally, the “I” logo has been added to the upper-right thigh of the pants (additional photos here and here):
The Hawkeyes are naming the field at Kinnick Stadium after Duke Slater, a trailblazing Black player from the 1920s.
The Terps will wear a retro-flavored fauxback uniform, inspired by the team’s 1980s look, for the season-opening game against West Virginia on Sept. 4 (additional info and photos here):
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh started awarding merit decals — those little stickers that some teams use as a reward for on-field achievements — in 2015. Up until now, the stickers have all featured a wolverine’s head, but this year Harbaugh is changing things up by using a variety of different designs to mark different milestones (you can get the full breakdown here):
Interesting cross-sport move by the Spartans, who are adding a white helmet with a “State” script inspired by the school’s 1979 national championship basketball team. The new white design was originally supposed to be worn last season, but the pandemic had other plans (additional info here):
The Gophers will wear a new black uniform for their season-opening game against Ohio State on Sept. 2:
Meanwhile: What happens when a bank that held the naming rights to a stadium gets acquired by another bank? The stadium gets a new name, that’s what. New logo on the turf, too.
The Huskers will wear a new white camouflage uniform to honor the military and first responders for the Sept. 11 game against Buffalo. On the one hand, the camo/military aspect of this seems misguided, since most victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks were civilians. On the other hand, the camouflage pattern is almost indiscernible on the uniform anyway (additional photos here):
Several small changes for the Buckeyes this season. First, they’re adding a commemorative rear-helmet decal for the Sept. 11 home game against Oregon:
Second, you know how a player’s backplate will sometimes be exposed? The OSU equipment staff has created team-specific backplate designs for their players this year:
Finally, remember how the NCAA started allowing players to wear No. 0 last season? The Buckeyes decided to award that number each season to a player who epitomizes the spirit and traits of former OSU player Bill Willis. This year’s honoree is offensive tackle Thayer Munford, but NCAA regulations stipulate that offensive lineman can only wear numbers from 50 through 79, so Munford will wear his usual No. 75 jersey, along with a “Block 0 Recipient” patch (additional info here):
The Badgers will be facing Notre Dame in the Fighting Irish’s latest Shamrock Series game, which will take place on Sept. 25 at Chicago’s Soldier Field. Wisconsin will have a new retro-themed design for that game (additional photos and info here):
Also: Last year the NCAA for the first time allowed players to wear No. 0. Wisconsin chose not to issue that number in 2020, but freshman running back Braelon Allen is wearing it this year, making him the first ever zero-clad Badger.
The Cyclones have previously honored Jack Trice — the first Black player in school history — by wearing throwbacks and jersey patches. They’re keeping the patches this season and going a step further by putting the old-school Trice-era striping on their front helmet bumpers:
The Jayhawks have a new retro-themed alternate uniform featuring graphic elements from various points in the team’s history. It will be worn for the Oct. 16 game against Texas Tech (additional photos and info here):
Not uni-related but still part of the visual culture of the game: You know how opposing teams like to troll the Longhorns with that “horns down” hand gesture? The Big 12 is trying to crack down on taunting in 2021, so that sign could result in a penalty this season.
Meanwhile: The Longhorns will be playing on a new turf field this season.
The 49ers will have a new field design this season. Also, it’s worth noting that the university is now calling itself just Charlotte, instead of UNC Charlotte, and is now using the athletic department’s pickaxe-C logo as the school’s primary logo.
Also, in a late-breaking development, Charlotte is adding a solid-gold uniform with a gold-chrome helmet:
The Owls have a new red home jersey this year. Whereas the old one had those awkward-looking Florida-shaped logo patches, the new design features classic UCLA-style stripes:
Also: See how linebacker Akileis Leroy is wearing No. 2 in that photo? That’s a new number for him (he previously wore No. 36), and it’s part of FAU coach Willie Taggart’s new plan to reward high-achieving players by giving them single-digit numbers (including defensive lineman Jaylen Joyner, who’s poised to become the first No. 0 in FAU history).
Meanwhile: Football teams typically memorialize important figures with either a jersey patch or a helmet decal. But FAU is honoring former coach Howard Schnellenberger, who died earlier this year, with a patch and a decal — a fitting tribute to the program’s founding coach:
In addition, FAU’s field, which has been named after Schnellenberger since 2014, now has his name at midfield.
Finally: Head coach Willie Taggart is no longer just the head coach, as FAU has sold his job title’s naming rights to a pair of wealthy supporters. This isn’t a new phenomenon (several other schools have done the same thing, including Michigan, Notre Dame and Stanford), but it’s still really weird.
No visuals yet, but the Mean Green will be unveiling a new helmet as part of its Hayden Fry tribute series. Last season’s edition in this series featured the school’s old “flying worm” logo on a white helmet, and a team rep says this year’s version will feature that same logo on a neon green shell. Additional info here.
The Monarchs have a new solid-blue alternate uniform, which they’ll wear for their Sept. 25 home game against Buffalo (additional info here):
The Owls have a new silver alternate helmet, which will debut early in the season:
Speaking of helmets, the white design that’s been part of Rice’s headgear rotation since 2013 is being retired.
Meanwhile: No visuals yet, but a team rep says the Owls will wear a commemorative helmet decal on Sept. 11, when they host Houston.
Also: The team will be playing on a new field this season.
The Eagles have added striping to their sleeves and pants and scrapped their TV numbers. Whatever — it all feels uninspired. Some schools always seem to look meh, no matter how many uni redesigns they cycle through, and this is one of them (additional views in this video):
Several changes this year for the Roadrunners, beginning with a new gray alternate uniform:
While it’s hard to see in that photo, several changes have also been made to the blue helmets: All logo decals now have a chrome finish; the front and back bumpers have changed from blue “UTSA” lettering on a white background to orange lettering on blue; and the chinstraps have been changed from white to blue.
Also: The UTSA football program is celebrating its 10th anniversary this season, so the team will wear its inaugural uni combo — blue helmet, blue jersey, white pants — for one of this season’s home games. No word yet on which game that will be.
WKU’s Sept. 2 season opener against Tennessee-Martin will be a whiteout game. The Hilltoppers will wear white shoes for that game (the first time they’ve done that under current head coach Tyson Helton) and will also debut a new white helmet featuring a recolored “Tops” script, new striping colors, and a new nose bumper logo. Here’s a side-by-side comparison — old white helmet on the left, new one on the right:
No announcement yet, but you can be sure that the Black Knights will have a new uni design for the annual showdown with Navy, this year’s edition of which will take place on Dec. 11 at MetLife Stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands.
After wearing white helmets for most of the past half-century, the Cougars are adding two new blue designs into their headgear rotation — one royal and one navy (here’s lots of additional photos and info):
Also: BYU has added a very cool jersey-themed display to its locker room.
Also-also: As part of the new NIL rules, BYU walk-on players are now having their tuition covered in return for wearing advertising decals on their practice helmets.
Notre Dame’s Shamrock Series, which took a break in 2019 and was canceled due to the pandemic in 2020, resumes this year on Sept. 25, with the Fighting Irish scheduled to face Wisconsin at Soldier Field in Chicago. Here’s a good video that breaks down all the details of what the Irish will wear that day (additional info here and here):
The Zips have changed outfitters, switching from Adidas to Nike. Judging by photos that emerged from MAC Media Day, the new uniforms will be fairly basic:
The Falcons have replaced the lettering on their pants with a stripe pattern that complements the jersey’s sleeve striping:
If that looks familiar, it’s because it’s the same template worn by fellow MAC school Toledo, but in a different colorway.
The Bobcats are honoring their “Super Seniors” — players who were seniors during last year’s COVID-truncated season and are remaining with the team for their extra year of pandemic eligibility — with an Ohio-shaped jersey patch (although the shape is easy to miss on the team’s green home jerseys):
Also, the Bobcats have taken the unusual step of announcing their full uniform schedule for the entire season. NFL teams sometimes do this, but it’s rare at the college level. In any case, it’s a fan-friendly move, so here’s hoping more schools do this in the future.
WMU’s athletic department is changing its primary logo and simplifying its color scheme, which of course means new football uniforms. So far all we’ve seen are the new road jerseys; the Broncos’ home opener isn’t until Sept. 11, so they may be keeping the new home uni under wraps until we get closer to that date.
The Falcons have a new alternate uniform inspired by the B-52 bomber. The uniform, which will be worn for the Sept. 11 game against Navy, is loaded — like, seriously loaded — with military-themed design details (lots of additional details and nearly 100 more photos here):
Each year the Rams have an “Ag Day” game, when they wear orange and honor the school’s previous incarnation as Colorado Agricultural University. Previous Ag Days have seen the team wearing green helmets with orange ram horns, but this year they’re going with a white shell and a sailor-capped “angry ram” logo, which will be worn for the Sept. 11 game against Vanderbilt:
Also: CSU will bring back the popular “state pride” uniforms for the Nov. 13 game against Air Force.
Also-also: A team rep says one more new uniform is still to come — stay tuned.
Looking ahead, Bulldog Stadium will likely have a new moniker next season, as the school has struck a naming rights deal with a local children’s hospital. If university officials approve the deal next spring, the new stadium name will go into effect for the 2022 season.
The Rainbow Warriors have switched from Under Armour to Adidas. You can see the new jerseys in this video:
Fun fact: Hawaii has now been outfitted by four different companies — Reebok, Nike, Under Armour and Adidas — in this century.
Also: Hawaii hasn’t worn white helmets since 2017. That design featured the team’s “H” logo on both sides, but this year they’re adding a white shell with the Hawaiian Islands on the left side, much like the black helmets they’ve been wearing in recent years:
That “15” will be worn on all Hawaii helmets this season as a memorial tribute to former player Colt Brennan, who died earlier this year.
The Wolfpack will have two new helmets this season. The primary lid will be a metallic silver design that really pops and should look sensational on the field. There will also be a new alternate white design, which is fine, although it’s hard to imagine why they’d want to wear it when the silver look is available. Both shells will have the “Pack” script on one side and the player’s number on the other (additional photos and info here):
The Lobos have new uniforms this season. The team can mix and match the red top and white tops with red, silver or white pants.
Also, the Lobos will wear their white alternate uniform with turquoise accents for the Sept. 18 game at Texas A&M.
In addition, UNM will wear a throwback helmet logo for this year’s rivalry game against New Mexico State on Sept. 11.
Meanwhile, the Lobos are bringing two numbers out of retirement. No. 44, which had been retired for Brian Urlacher, will be worn this season by linebacker Reco Hannah, the defensive player who best exemplifies Urlacher’s style of play. And No. 42, which had been retired for Albuquerque native Bobby Santiago, will be worn by linebacker Dion Hunter, who hails from the Albuquerque metro area. Urlacher and Santiago were both consulted and gave their blessings to the new honors.
San Diego State
SDSU’s helmets have featured an Aztec-themed pattern since 2015, but the helmet shells are so glossy that they’ve often looked solid-red, with no sign of the underlying pattern. This year they’ve taken steps to make the pattern more distinct:
No details or visuals yet, but a team rep says UNLV’s jerseys and pants will both be adding some new color options this season.
Fun fact: This is the 125th season of Wyoming football, but those seasons haven’t been consecutive. The school didn’t play in 1918 due to the flu epidemic, nor in 1943, ’44 or ’45 due to World War II. The school has been featuring a 125th-season logo on its social media accounts, but no word yet on whether it will be worn on the team’s uniform.
At this year’s Pac-12 Media Day, new Arizona coach Jedd Fisch was asked about the team’s uniforms and laid down a traditionalist marker by saying, “I believe in being able to wear the same helmet every game.” Sure enough the Wildcats’ new uniforms are fairly straightforward and retro, hearkening back to their “Desert Swarm” days (additional info and photos here):
The Sun Devils haven’t worn a gold jersey since 1990. That will change on Sept. 25, when they wear a new gold-centric uniform at home against Colorado (additional photos and info here):
No uni announcements this year from the Golden Bears, but their field (not their stadium) has a new name, thanks to college football’s first ever naming rights deal with a cryptocurrency exchange.
If you’ve been waiting for the Ducks to bring the diamond plate pattern from their mid-2000s uniforms,
I don’t know what’s wrong with you you’re in luck! Check out the shoulders of the team’s new set:
The party line is that this new shoulder pattern is supposed to resemble flying ducks, but come on — it’s clearly a diamond plate redux. There are a couple of ways to look at this: A cynic might say that Oregon and Nike have finally scraped the bottom of the creative barrel and are now recycling old ideas; a more charitable view is that the Ducks have been pushing the envelope for so long that some of their old uni elements now qualify as retro. Either way, here are the requisite green and yellow uni combos, along with some additional info.
UCLA has been embroiled in a contractual dispute with Under Armour, which led to the Bruins covering up the UA logo on their jerseys with a social justice patch last season. The school subsequently inked a new deal with Nike’s Jordan Brand, whose new uniforms are extremely similar to the old ones:
In addition, the Bruins have tweaked the shade of gold on their helmets. The old version had a lot of yellow in it, while the new one is more of a true gold. Here’s a comparison photo — old version on the left, new on the right:
You can see UCLA equipment director Frederick Lovett explaining some details from the new uniforms, as well as the new helmet color, in this video.
The Utes have a new gray alternate uniform inspired by the World War II Navy cruiser USS Salt Lake City. The uniform will be worn for the Nov. 20 home game against Oregon (additional views and info here):
Also: After freshman running back Ty Jordan died last winter, the Utes honored him in their annual spring game by replacing their usual right-side helmet logo with an “LL TJ” memorial graphic (standing for “Long Live Ty Jordan”). The team will wear a smaller version of that logo as a rear-helmet decal this season.
The Huskies are celebrating the 30th anniversary of their 1991 national championship with a sharp-looking throwback uniform. No word yet on when it will be worn, however (additional photos and info here):
Also: Cornerback Bookie Radley-Hiles, who transferred to Washington from Oklahoma during the off-season, wore No. 44 with the Sooners. The Huskies long ago retired that number for two-way back Roland Kirkby, but they’re bringing it out of retirement this season, with Kirkby’s family’s blessing, so Radley-Hiles can wear it.
Meanwhile: The Huskies will be playing on new turf this season.
The Cougars have sold the naming rights to their field, although the building itself will still be called Martin Stadium.
Fun fact: The Crimson Tide is the designated road team and will therefore be wearing white for the season-opening game against Miami, which will be played in Atlanta. According to Bama beat writer Michael Casagrande, that will mark the first time the Tide have worn white for a neutral-site game since a 2009 matchup with Virginia Tech.
No more “Mizzou” for Mizzou, as the nickname lettering that appeared on the team’s jersey chest in recent years has been scrapped. New sleeve stripes, too:
Want to learn more? Tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Casey Woods gave some good background info on the new unis in a recent interview, which begins at the 0:30 mark of this video.
Also: The Tigers will be playing this year on new Astroturf.
After wearing black shoes for the past three seasons, the Vols are switching back to white this season.
Meanwhile, here’s something to keep an eye on: Head coach Josh Heupel recently said that he’s open to introducing new alternate uniform designs, and a black retail jersey leaked earlier this year, so something could be in the works on that front.
Super-subtle change for the Aggies, who’ve added white trim to their sleeve cuffs. Considering the way many players tuck their cuffs under their pads, this uni adjustment probably won’t even be visible most of the time (you can see a few more views by scrolling through the photos here):
Also: The Aggies will be wearing a helmet decal marking the centennial of their “12th Man” tradition. Additional info and the decal design are available here.
And finally, a team rep says the “Unified” patch that the team added last season is being retained for 2021, but this year it will be maroon, not black.
The Mountaineers’ Oct. 20 game against Coastal Carolina will be a “Punt Cancer” promotion. The players’ block-A helmet logos will feature four different ribbon colors: pink for breast cancer, gold for pediatric cancer, gray for brain cancer and lavender for all cancer. The different colors will be divided up among the players.
The Chanticleers’ new look is similar to last year’s and feels mostly like a rote transition to a different Under Armour template:
The folks at Red Zone Reconditioning assure your friendly uniform columnist that these new facemasks are “a little more red” than last year’s, although it’s hard to see much difference when looking at game pics from 2020.
No announced changes for the Trojans, although it’s worth noting that their marching band has new uniforms.
• Sept. 11 falls on a Saturday this year, so it seems like a safe bet that more schools will be adding some sort of commemorative uniform gesture on that date, especially since this year marks the 20th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
• You know how so many players now cuff their pants above the knee and/or leave their base-layer shirts untucked? Those are both technically against NCAA regulations, although those rules are rarely enforced. But new entry in the NCAA rulebook stipulates that game officials should apply heightened scrutiny to those violations this season. If history is any guide, players will keep doing it anyway.
• Want to see something really cool? Check out this bar chart race that ranks schools by their total AP poll appearances dating back to 1936:
• Last but not least: This season, like the last one, will take place in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. There’s a good rundown of this year’s player protocols, stadium rules, forfeiture policies and more here.
And there you have it. Did we miss anything? Yeah, probably. If so, you know what to do. Enjoy the season!
Paul Lukas will have his annual NFL Season Preview next week. If you like this article, you’ll probably like his Uni Watch Blog and his weekly column on Bulletin, 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 more 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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