In the realm of college football, there is one defining factor that determines how popular a team is. It’s not the coach’s clever tactics, it’s not the players’ athleticism, it’s not even the cheerleaders. No, the only thing that matters to get a huge crowd in a college stadium is a good mascot. That’s right, a guy in a goofy anthropomorphic suit and a jersey, looking like a furry with an insane amount of school spirit, is the herald of your team’s victory. The first foot to land on the battlefield to announce their presence is covered in faux fur. Surprisingly, it seems these silent heroes of the field are doomed to go unappreciated for the efforts they put into inspiring the crowd and players alike. In an effort to combat such leniency, here’s a rundown of the 15 best college football mascots.
Brutus Buckeye, Ohio State
Considering that the State of Ohio is affectionately known as “the buckeye state,” choosing the particularly tough tree nut as a mascot not only shows off Ohio State’s swell of hometown pride but also its teams’ rigid and unbreaking resilience. Named in a contest by Kerry Reed in 1965, Brutus Buckeye inspires such animosity in rival teams that Ohio Bobcats mascot-wearer Brandon Hanning confessed that his purpose in trying out for the position was so he could tackle Brutus. This revelation came after the fact.
Willie The Wildcat, Northwestern University
The wildcat is a pretty standard animal mascot and Willie is even a fairly standard name for a wildcat to have. So how does the grey cat in purple and white make this list? Because he was created by a Chicago Tribune journalist who, in 1924, wrote that even in a loss to University of Chicago, the Northwestern players were “like wildcats…had come down from Evanston. The name stuck and the mascot was created later. Northwestern: vicious as a feral feline since 1924.
Sparty The Spartan, Michigan State
Spartans make for great team mascots. The ancient Greek culture focused primarily on military power and aggression always invokes images of strong warriors and dangerous enemies. Of all the Spartan mascots, however, Sparty of Michigan State takes the cake. He’s got a hilarious yet chant-able name, looks particularly muscular even by cartoon Spartan standards and is one of the best human mascot costumes in the league.
Nittany Lion, Penn State
The Nittany Lion is actually supposed to be an Eastern Mountain Lion, specifically from nearby Mt. Nittany. It was created by H.D. Mason after being taunted by some Princeton students at an away game. On the spot, Mason declared that the Princeton Tigers would be slain by the superior right arms of the Nittany Lion. The story is commemorated by a shrine on campus and the Penn State practice of cumulative, one-armed pushups after every touchdown, showing off their ‘superior right arms.’
Mr. And Mrs. Wuf, NC State
Couples mascots can be tricky to pull off, but NC state got it right with Mr. and Mrs. Wuf. Dressed like a couple out of a 1950s high school, the gray wild canines are as vicious as they are dotting. To inspire their team with their love, the two will occasionally get ‘married’ before a game, accepting a North Carolina victory as a wedding present. And if they can’t win with the power of love, Mr. and Mrs. Wuf will be more than happy to show players how to nash their teeth intimidatingly.
There is no animal, person or object more terrifying than a rampaging hot pepper. Looking a bit more demonic than was likely intended this giant cayenne pepper strolls along with the Ragin’ Cajuns as an embodiment of their school spirit and their pride in Acadiana. He’s also just intimidating to look at. In the future, Louisiana-Lafayette students might start using cayenne in their battle strategy, at which point it may appear on the banned substance list.
The Sooner Schooner, Oklahoma
Who says a mascot has to be an animal or a person or even something living? Leave it to the alma mater of Good ole JR to parade a small covered wagon around the field, drawn by a pair of decorated white ponies, all the way to the 50-yard line after every touchdown. It even used to be part of a stunt where the driver would have to ride towards the goal post as fast as they could and duck their head down at the last minute. This was later stopped because football is dangerous enough as it is.
Ralphie The Buffalo, University of Colorado
The practice of using live animals as mascots has largely gone away due to safety and animal rights concerns. Apparently, the University of Colorado didn’t get the memo though because they’re currently on Ralphie number five. Led around by no less than five handlers, Ralphie loops the field twice at each home game. Despite the name Ralphie, the school exclusively uses female buffalo for, among other reasons, insurance purposes.
Chief Osceola & Renegade, Florida State University
Cultural appropriation issues aside, this is one of the most insane mascots ever. Based on the real-life Seminole chief, Osceola rides into home games on a live horse before tossing a flaming spear into midfield. Though many prominent members of the Seminole tribe have given the mascot their unofficial blessing, and some have even praised this representation of one of their culture’s unsung heroes, the depiction is still considered controversial to some.
Otto The Orange, Syracuse
As the saying goes, if you can’t eat them, baffle them. Otto the Orange is a literal anthropomorphic orange and is one of Syracuse’s most enduring institutions. Which isn’t saying much as their previous mascots were the offensive Native American stereotype Big Chief Bill Orange and the vehemently unpopular Orange Gladiator. Still, the playful and mischevious Otto is a homegrown staple of the student body and is one of the most beloved mascots in the division.
Big Red, Western Kentucky
It’s big and it’s red and that’s about all there is to it. But somehow the furry scarlet blob became an instant hit with the student body when it was introduced in 1980. Since then, its popularity has led to it placing highly in multiple cheerleading competitions and even feature fairly regularly on ESPN. He was even a part of an international lawsuit in 2004 when an Italian television show’s mascot was discovered to be eerily similar to good ole Big Red.
Sebastian The Ibis, Universtiy of Miami
For a team called the Hurricanes, what better symbol than the local marsh bird best known for braving the massive storms? Known for his classic C-A-N-E-S cheer and for being the only openly Hispanic mascot (he identifies as Cuban), Sebastian made history by being the first mascot to avoid arrest by being a mascot. After being tackled to the ground while trying to put out Chief Osceola’s flaming spear, he was released when officers realized they were literally arresting a bird in a fireman’s outfit.
Buzz & The Ramblin’ Wreck, Georgia Tech
If you have a gilded 1930 Ford Model A Sport coupe on standby, you probably would bust that baby out at every available opportunity too. Almost always accompanied by Buzz the Bee and a gaggle of enthusiastic cheerleaders, the Ramblin’ Wreck has been leading students to the football field in one form or another for the better part of sixty years. Unfortunately, it’s a prime target for rival schools and has been defaced, sabotaged and even stolen on multiple occasions.
The Demon Deacon, Wake Forest University
In 1923, Wake Forest school newspaper editor Mayon Parker got into some hot water by referring to the football team of the Baptist college as “demon deacons” for their “devilish” tactics. Fortunately for Parker, the student body embraced the description wholeheartedly. Nowadays, every Wake Forest home game begins with the thousands of cheers as a bespoke, softly smirking deacon rides into the stadium on a custom chopper, announcing the arrival of a demonic presence.
Sam The Minuteman, UMass Amherst
Named after both a popular Boston children’s book and the famed Son of Liberty and brewer Sam Adams, Sam the Minuteman is a patriotic staple of any and every UMass Amherst game. Never seen without his crimson tri-point hat and matching vest, the character is a model of having a hometown represent the college as opposed to the other way around. He’s popular enough to have appeared on ESPN segments and even tag-teamed with Pat Patriot on occasion.
Honorable mentions go to Ephelia the Purple Cow of Williams College, Sammy the Banana Slug of UC Santa Cruz and the ‘Fightin’ Irish’ Leprechaun of Notre Dame.