Pac-10 Uni Watch, Part I

With fabric shining and stripes jutting out from all directions, today's breed of football uniforms lacks only subtlety. Now, set your hot tub time machine for the Era of Elway. Surrounded by fans with questionable senses of style, football players wore a much more distinguished look... Worst to first, we rank 'em all!

I see helmets covered in a brawny coat of paint, as in UCLA's sturdy gold. USC's tough shade crimson is everything today's Oklahoma Sooners headgear – coated like a candy apples – is not. The stripes are symmetrical, with the pants matching the helmets. The absence of Lycra, together with the inclusion of thick, gladiator-style facemasks and wide sleeves allows for a fearsome look.

Kenny Easley, Jim Jeffcoat and Chuck Cecil are even scarier.

It's no chore to argue that the Pac-10 is smitten with tradition. That same sense of tradition inspires the league's football uniforms. Collectively, the threads may not be as longstanding as, say, the NHL's Original Six. But as a whole, the conference seems to have its aesthetic act together. The best unis achieve strength in understated ways. They've also survived the test of time better than your old Members Only jacket.

So from bottom to top, it's time to rank each Pac-10 team based on a strut down the runway.

It wasn't always this bad
10. Oregon

Style points: It's hard to pinpoint the gaudiest headgear/jerseys/pants combination. In 2009 alone, the Ducks sported five different helmet designs.
Current look's debut: Depends on the week.
Retro gear: The Quackers turned the clock way back to 1998 in last fall's home date with Cal. Oregon's uniforms stayed consistent for decades into the '90s, with influence provided by the Green Bay Packers.

9. Cal
Style points: Pete Carroll's work at USC overshadowed an even more massive on-field turnaround at Cal by Jeff Tedford. Similarly, Cal would have the Pac-10's worst uniform were it not for Tedford's former employer up in Eugene. The forgettable design features stripes (arrows?) more suited as decals on an F-18.
Current look's debut: 2008
Retro gear: Anything pre-2002, when Tedford opted for the flashy redesign, was generally acceptable. The general feel and colors were put in place under Joe Kapp, who brought back navy blue as the primary color, following a decade of a lighter shade.

Things Could Be Worse
8. Arizona

Style points: Mike Stoops turned the helmet from white to blue upon his arrival six years ago. The current crop of jersey stripes debuted a year later. Opponents occasionally see an alternate red jersey, fitting since red has traditionally been the dominant shade of school merchandise.
Current look's debut: 2005
Retro gear: 'Zona sported a strawberry helmet/jersey combo when the program entered the Pac-10. Starting in 1981, U of A wore blue home jerseys and a white helmet featuring an all-time great but unfortunately retired logo: a solid red block "A."

7. Arizona State
Style points: Maroon and gold certainly represent the Desert Southwest. Until "The Real Housewives of Phoenix" comes along, the Sun Devils will be the embodiment of a region whose residents are prone to cosmetic changes. Stripes have come and gone, while the "Arizona State" lettering on the jersey front has shrunk to varying sizes.
Current look's debut: 2009
Retro gear: Three lanes of stripes down the helmet and pants. The white socks matched the facemasks. The unis were on display during one of the program's all-time best moments, the 1987 Rose Bowl win over Michigan. ASU donned throwback helmets for homecoming two years ago. "Sparky" first appeared on the helmet in 1980.

Making up for past mistakes
6. Washington State

Style points: Wazzu recently took on a more traditional outfit, junking a flamboyant kit it sported while enjoying some of the program's biggest moments in memory. Washington State took on the Denver Broncos-inspired look in 2000 and landed in the Rose Bowl within two years. The toned-down approach must be applauded.
Current look's debut: 2005
Retro gear: In the pre-Lycra days, the Cougars crimson pants/jersey ensemble brought leisure suits to mind. Further credit is deserved for one of the older logos among West Coast teams. The "WSC" – as in Washington State College – shaped in the head of a Cougar dates back to 1936.

Where do the rest rank? Stay tuned for Part II of the series.

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