The current obsession with college football uniforms began when the Oregon Ducks traded in their traditional jerseys for a radical redesign from Nike in 1999. Using flashy uniforms with non-school colors, the Ducks hoped their relationship with the apparel company could create a recruiting advantage and, in turn, help the program reach elite status.
15 years later, Oregon is among the favorites to reach the inaugural college football playoff, and Nike would love to take all the credit. Attempting to create the lightest, most durable uniforms it can, the Beaverton-based company has released 13 different templates since the Ducks first stepped on the field wearing lightning yellow uniforms.
We've grown accustomed to catchy slogans for every template, but Nike's first few uniforms are not as easily identified as today's jerseys. There was nothing special about the 1999 template, but the flashy colors brought attention to both the program and the manufacturer. Oregon and Miami (FL) were the first two teams to wear this template, however, it should be noted that the Hurricanes slightly modified the collar.
A year later, Nike unveiled a uniform that was seemingly geared towards teams that played north of the Mason-Dixon line. The template lacked the breathable mesh of the first Nike uniform, and instead focused on the cut of the fabric against the bulky shoulder pads. Only a handful of teams would adopt this template, which would be worn by Ohio State during the 2002 national championship season.
Oregon's uniforms underwent a modification prior to the 2003 season, and although the cut essentially stayed the same below the collar, this template featured a sublimated diamond pattern on the shoulders. This diamond-shaped fabric caused the uniform to stay tight against the player's shoulder pads, similar to Nike's Flywire technology. Other teams would eventually adopt this uniform cut, including the Florida Gators, but none would use the diamond-shaped material.
Nike once again changed its focus in 2004, outfitting the Miami Hurricanes with uniforms that featured maximum ventilation. With a wraparound piping design, the once-elite program had a unique design to that was attractive to recruits and flew off the shelves. However, dozens of teams in college football quickly adopted the template when Nike made the design readily available one year later.
Recognizing the merchandising opportunities and the attention brought on by one-off uniforms, three prominent Nike schools (Florida, Miami (FL), and Virginia Tech) wore their standard uniforms featuring a single orange sleeve. Aesthetically, the Revolution template made little sense and forced Nike designers back to the drawing boards.
Nike modified everything from the collar down, this time, as they introduced the final nameless template to college football's elite programs in 2006. Whereas the front plate of Miami's uniforms had solid fabric, the front of the this template was completely mesh.
Some teams, including Ohio State, complained about the design restraints that the last template had, therefore, Nike created the Destroyer template in 2007. Teams that had TV numbers pushed down on the sleeve by the last template were able to move them back to their normal position.
Some teams did not adopt the Destroyer template in 2007, instead opting for what is known as the Sports Bra template. This wasn't an official name, but it was hard to look at Oregon State without thinking Oregon alum and Nike chairman Phil Knight gave the Beavers this template on purpose. California and Miami (FL) were also outfitted in this template.
Eleven college football programs, including Florida State, participated in the Pro Combat System of Dress line for the 2009 season. The uniform's designs were inspired by the history and/or tradition of the school's participating in the promotion. The template had a strange pattern on the shoulders, known as Flywire, which Nike claimed helped the shoulders stay tight against the player's shoulder pads.
A year later, ten schools participated in Nike's second installment of the Pro Combat System of Dress. The only thing different between these uniforms and the previous year's line was the lack of Flywire on the shoulders in 2010. Although some teams like Alabama and Ohio State chose a more traditional look, Nike pushed progressive designs for others like Boise State and Virginia Tech.
Oregon first revealed the third version of Pro Combat uniforms in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game. Outside of the enlarged collar with Flywire, the Speed Machine template was the same as the earlier Pro Combat sets. With schools seemingly wearing alternate uniforms left and right, this marked the end of the promotional Pro Combat uniforms.
Using Oregon's appearance in the 2011 Rose Bowl as a chance to debut another template, Nike outfitted the Ducks in Pro Combat Hypercool uniforms. The template featured Chain Maile mesh throughout, allowing for more ventilation than the past Pro Combat uniforms. Several teams would adopt the template for the 2013 season, including Alabama, Ohio State, and Texas.
As noted, the promotional Pro Combat line ended in 2011, but teams continued to reveal special uniforms as part of Nike's Rivalry line. These uniforms all used the Hypercool template.
Once again at the forefront of Nike's technology, Oregon unveiled the Pro Combat Mach Speed template for the 2013 Alamo Bowl. No longer using a Flywire collar, the uniform has a mesh insert down the center of the chest and back that helps fabric move along with the player. In past seasons, the Ducks would exclusively wear this template for a year before it would be available to other teams, but Ohio State and Alabama will both be outfitted in the Mach Speed template in 2014.
Stay tuned as we'll take an in-depth look at Adidas and Under Armour's football uniform templates.