Clothes Call: Ranking Big Ten football helmets

When Tom Dienhart wrote that Penn State should put blue ribbon stickers on both sides of its helmet, it got my attention. No helmet, it seems, is as sacred as Penn State’s  – not even Michigan’s. After all, the Wolverines are coming off a season in which they added numbers to their lids and put gray facemasks in the rotation, both nods to the past. It’s back to the usual look in 2012. The last time Penn State made a significant change to its helmet: 1987, when it went from gray to blue facemasks.

That’s a commitment to one look. But Penn State and Michigan aren’t the only Big Ten teams with iconic lids. Nebraska and Ohio State both are extremely recognizable, as is Iowa.

On the topic of helmets, here is how I rank the Big Ten lids (note: my top three always seem to change):

1. Penn State – The most polarizing of the group, Penn State’s classic white lid, with only a blue stripe down the middle and a blue facemask, is so simple and so perfect.

2. Michigan – The winged helmet is a classic look that will forever be popular. Michigan’s combination of maize and blue makes it an even sharper look than others.

3. Ohio State – While the lid has gotten a little too sparkly for my liking in recent years, by season’s end, the Buckeye stickers make it one of the best looks.

[ Clothes Call: Big Ten summer practice edition]

4. Iowa – Yes, the Hawkeyes copied the Pittsburgh Steelers’ design, but it works. And there are subtle differences, like the Tigerhawk logo on both sides of the helmet.

Minnesota Helmet

5. Nebraska – Another simple helmet, Nebraska did well going with the Block “N” on both sides. The numbers on the back of the helmet are a nice touch, too.

6. Minnesota – Maroon and gold isn’t the easiest combination to make look good, but Minnesota does it, especially with its new matte helmet.

7. Purdue – Often underrated, for whatever reason, Purdue has good colors to work with and incorporates them in a simple, clean look.

8. Michigan State – USC it is not, the Spartans had a better look in recent years. Basically, that incredibly thick white stripe needs to go. Maybe forget about the stripe altogether.

9. Indiana – My little cousin used to think the logo was a cactus, and I can’t say I blame him. Oklahoma does this look better.

10. Wisconsin – It’s almost a cartoon version of Nebraska’s helmet, with that HUGE Motion “W”. Go with a smaller old-school “W”, and it’s much higher on the list.

11. Northwestern – Purple isn’t an easy color to work with, but Northwestern’s odd-shaped “N” never looks quite right, either.

12. Illinois – Uninspiring, to say the least. Go ahead, name another team that has its state name on its helmet (Update: commenter below alerted me Ohio has name on helmet). At least there could be something new next season.

Here’s some of the responses I got for best Big Ten helmet on Twitter: web editor Brent Yarina writes the Clothes Call features. Send him your Big Ten fashion tips here, find all of his work here and follow him on Twitter at @BTNBrentYarina.


Your Opinion?
Show Comments (21 Comments)
Patrick on 8/8/2012 @ 1:00pm EDT Said:

Michigan at #1. That is all.

Chris on 8/8/2012 @ 1:09pm EDT Said:

I’m a Spartan and I couldn’t agree with you more about the stripe on the helmet. Keep the darker green but please go back to the more traditional thin white stripe!

Major on 8/8/2012 @ 1:17pm EDT Said:

The Ohio Bobcats have their state name on their helmets. You suck at research, Brent.

    Brent Yarina, on 8/8/2012 @ 1:21pm EDT Said:

    Ha! Yes, the Ohio Bobcats are one. Good call. Point is, there aren’t many, especially in BCS conferences.

Stephen on 8/8/2012 @ 1:26pm EDT Said:

Dude, your explanations are really week. Your likes are also predictably programed by TV appearances and historical winning percentages. It’s really hard to respect your judgment. At least the guys who make political commercials will love you. ; -)

    Brent Yarina, on 8/8/2012 @ 1:33pm EDT Said:

    Stephen – Thanks for the comment. Don’t agree with you on the “predictably programmed” comment. Iowa at No. 4?! Minnesota and Purdue ahead of Wisconsin?!? It’s all personal opinion. The list has nothing to do with wins, program prestige, only which looks I like most. If what you’re saying was the case, wouldn’t Michigan be No. 1?

Larry on 8/8/2012 @ 1:41pm EDT Said:

Pretty sure most people you talk to will say Michigan has the most recognizable helmet in collage football. But I don’t understand why you said “experimented” with the gray facemask. Michigan had sported that look for years until Bo took over as coach. Same with the numbers, Michigan use to have them on their helmets also. They took pieces of tradition and used it for a season.

    Brent Yarina, on 8/8/2012 @ 1:46pm EDT Said:

    Larry – Michigan’s helmet is the most recognizable, I’m not arguing that. That’s not what the list was about. Yes, I’m aware the numbers/facemask last year were pieces of the program’s proud history. I should have worded it better. My point was Penn State hasn’t made any significant helmet change in years. It also used to have numbers on helmets, but it hasn’t put them back on. That isn’t a knock against Michigan – just proof that Penn State’s look hasn’t changed.

Steve on 8/8/2012 @ 1:56pm EDT Said:

Brent – the USC helmet is actually close to a copyright infringement on the OLD MSU helmet (circa 1960’s)… look it up. The new Spartan logo is pretty distinctive, but I have to agree about the stripe. I actually prefer NO stripe on that helmet.

Carson on 8/8/2012 @ 3:07pm EDT Said:

When was the last time Nebraska made a change to its to normal helmet? All my life, I only remember the Red N and Stripe…I remember the throwback for the 300th sellout, but aside from the new high tech uniform, I can’t recall them being anything other then the Red N and stripe. Does anyone else know of a time when they didn’t have the current helmet?

Stephen on 8/8/2012 @ 3:16pm EDT Said:

“If what you’re saying was the case, wouldn’t Michigan be No. 1?”
Brent, You have them at No.2 out of 12. What’s the difference? Not much of a difference there. While unique, I would hardly say attractive is Michigan’s headgear. But this is what I am getting at; in terms of programing.
After living through some bad times football-wise here in Evanston, I can probably sing the Michigan fight song for you. This is because I have heard it after every UM score at Dyche Stadium/ (now Ryan Field) and I heard it on TV a lot on Saturday afternoons here in the Midwest. That has nothing to do with my love of maze and Blue, believe me. It has EVERYTHING to do with exposure. I sincerely think your rankings are influenced by exposure. Your topics though are fun stuff. Keep up the fun.

Doug on 8/8/2012 @ 3:19pm EDT Said:

Michigan copied Delaware’s helmet 100 years ago, why isn’t Delaware getting any credit?

Steve on 8/8/2012 @ 6:04pm EDT Said:


Shane-CA on 8/8/2012 @ 9:09pm EDT Said:

Carson, Nebraska used to have the “N” and “U” on the helmet back in the 60’s. The story goes that we ran out of “U” and just left the “N”. Can’t quote the year but true just the same. GBR! Also, completely disagree with Ohio state not being dead last. I hate……hate! Helmet stickers!!!!

Shane-CA on 8/8/2012 @ 9:13pm EDT Said:

Nebraska has worn traditional uniforms throughout its history. The first helmet was red, with a white stripe. This was later changed to a plain white helmet with a black number on the side. During 1967–1969, a red, offset “NU” was placed on each side of the helmet. From 1970, the “NU” was changed to the simple, familiar “N” that remains today, although it is thought a few “NU” helmets remained in use as late as 1972.

GoBlueCER on 8/9/2012 @ 1:22pm EDT Said:

Michigan didn’t copy Delaware. Do your research, they got the Helmet from Princeton when they hired Fritz.

Doug on 8/9/2012 @ 7:22pm EDT Said:

Whatever, Delaware, Princeton, still copied the helmet. And I don’t care enough about michigan to do any kind of research on them, they have the most recognizable helmet because it is the ugliest !

Mike on 8/10/2012 @ 12:05pm EDT Said:

The picture of the Purdue unis are old by the way. Purdue went back to a single black stripe down the middle of the helmet last year and changed their entire jersey. Personally, I like the jersey and helmet (with the white stripe) in your picture much better than their uniforms and helmet. The jersey in the picture was simple and classic. They just should have worn gold pants more often instead of black on black for home games.

    Brent Yarina, on 8/10/2012 @ 12:20pm EDT Said:

    Mike – Great catch! I have updated it. Thanks.

Tom on 8/20/2012 @ 11:52am EDT Said:

The only people that need to like a team’s gear are blue chip, 17-18 yr old boys. Many old fuddy duddy’s don’t like Oregon’s unis, guess what, 70% of high school football players do. I doubt a plain white helmet is many kids’ idea of cool, hip, tight or whatever the vernacular is these days. Change with the times or be left behind.

Michael Perigo on 8/23/2012 @ 11:32pm EDT Said:

bring back the black and white center stripes on the Purdue helmet