Ever since the University of Oregon started messing around with its uniforms on a nonstop basis in the mid-2000s, the rest of the football world has been trying to catch up. At this point, nearly every college football program and even a few NFL teams are bending over backwards to think of fresh and attention-grabbing images to slap on their helmets. Some of the time, the results are hideous. But much of the time, these outside-the-box designs are actually quite beautiful pieces of modern pop art—albeit on gear that’s main purpose is still to protect young men from receiving massive and life-altering head trauma. Here are our favorite nontraditional helmets you can now find on the gridiron on any given weekend.
Air Force Falcons: These helmets, which will be worn by Air Force against Georgia State on September 10, are awesome. Modeled after the Air Force’s A-10 Warthog fighter plane, the helmets feature shark teeth and a couple of fierce eyeballs. Way to nail the badass football helmet, Air Force.
Missouri Tigers: Mizzou has never won a consensus national championship, but don’t mention this to my editors (who both attended Mizzou). These black matte helmets with the oversized tiger logo are pretty cool, I guess.
The Tigers also have a version in silver. Also pretty cool, I guess.
UCLA Bruins: Speaking of matte black, matte black with the school’s name shining in gold is a good look for UCLA. The blue trim is also a nice touch. Perhaps the badassness of these skull-protectors can propel the Bruins to a surprise trip to the College Football Playoff this season.
While we're on the subject of UCLA: Last year, UCLA wore a matte black helmet against Washington State that featured a frog. Why? It was actually a Navy SEAL frogman logo, and it was meant to honor the school’s longstanding relationship with the Navy SEAL community. Cool idea, but it didn’t help the Bruins. They were upset by the Cougars 31-27.
Oregon Ducks: Thanks to Nike, the Ducks have by far the most stylish (and largest) stash of uniforms and helmets in college football. It’s tough to pick a favorite, but I think the duck wings are their greatest creation.
They have a bunch of different color combos for that design too.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish: Notre Dame already has one of the most classic helmets out there, but this updated alternate gives them some more flash. They've actually got a number of new looks. They might not sit well with some of the Irish fans from Rudy Ruettiger’s era…
… but they probably help earn the approval of those highly coveted recruits they're after. (At least until they discover how cold it is in South Bend, Indiana, in December, anyway.)
Navy Midshipmen: The detail on these helmets, which Navy wore for their bowl game last season, is impressive. They feature hand-painted ships, and each position group has a different ship on their helmets.
One question: When the quarterback gets sacked, does the defense have the right to say they sunk Navy’s battleship?
Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jags have always been one of those teams that both didn’t play well and didn’t look good. This fact allowed them to experiment on their redesign a few years back, and the multicolored helmet is a surprising success.
Army Black Knights: The armed forces are killing the helmet game. You’ve already seen Air Force’s and Navy’s. Well, Army’s helmets are just as strong.
Seattle Seahawks: Back in the Steve Largent days, the Seahawks helmet was silver and the Seahawk logo on it lacked personality. Now, the helmet is a formidable dark blue and the Seahawk on it looks fairly pissed-off. On the field, the Seahawks are also more feared. (Back-to-back Super Bowl appearances will do that.) Way to change your headgear—and your brand—Seattle.
Indiana Hoosiers: Indiana has released a few creative helmet designs recently, and this one is our favorite of the bunch. It’s extremely shiny and reflective, with red and silver stripes. It hasn’t led to more victories for the Hoosiers, but hey, at least they’re trying!