As summer shifts to fall, Saturdays become college football days. Nothing says college football like the larger-than-life personas that patrol the sidelines on those Saturdays. While the coaches, players, bands, cheerleaders, and occasional celebrities are great, that's not what I am referring to. Rather, I am talking about mascots. Some are alive, some are cartoonish, and most are unusual, to say the least.
In anticipation of the 2012 college football season kicking off this month, here are the top-25 mascots in the game (FBS only; sorry, Artie the Fighting Artichoke):
25. Joe Vandal, Idaho: While the name may lead to thoughts about graffiti, Joe Vandal is a different kind of vandal, one that has the heritage of a fierce Germanic tribe. He was nearly replaced with an inflatable version in the early 2000s, but fan outrage led to that version being ceremoniously deflated and Joe returning. Joe scores extra points for being such a good student.
24. Baldwin the Eagle, Boston College: In 1920, Rev. Edward McLaughlin wrote to BC's student newspaper that it was "important that [the school] adopt a mascot to preside at [BC's] pow-wows and triumphant feats," and he suggested an eagle due to its majesty, power, and freedom. Even though the Boston College football team has been lacking when it comes to triumphant feats in recent years (I can't comment on the pow-wows), Baldwin is one of the most majestic mascots on this list.
23. Benny, Oregon State: Arguably the owner of the worst teeth of anyone on this list, it did not affect Benny's relationship potential. In the 1980s, he was accompanied by Bernice Beaver, a female companion, who would often wear a wedding dress to homecoming games (with Benny in tux).
22. Rocky the Rocket, Toledo: Although probably not the most creative name, Rocky is one of the coolest looking mascots. Plus, he is probably the only mascot on this list that is qualified to be sent by NASA to work on the Curiosity Mars rover -- assuming all other qualified candidates are busy and for some reason a mascot is needed for such a purpose.
21. Goldy the Gopher, Minnesota: I may have spoken too soon about the worst teeth. Goldy moved up the list in part for the charitable work he has done in the field of mascot abuse. For that alone, the other 24 mascots on this list should be grateful.
20. Pistol Pete, Oklahoma State: Since 1958, Pistol Pete has been attending Cowboy sporting events. If an impromptu shootout occurs any time near high noon, Pistol Pete is definitely the mascot I am calling to defend me.
19. The Hokie Bird, Virginia Tech: People have long debated what exactly a Hokie bird is. Regardless of this fact, the Hokie Bird has been causing trouble for opposing mascots for years, and has been a true representation of many of Frank Beamer's hard-hitting "Beamer-ball" teams.
18. Sebastian the Ibis, Miami (FL): When it comes to college football, nothing says in your face like "The U." Fittingly, the Hurricanes have a mascot that matches the team's personality. For instance, I am not aware of any other mascot on this list that can seriously say it has been detained.
17.Bevo, Texas: The history of Bevo dates back to the 1910s in Austin. What is more impressive is the fact that there is a debate as to why the live steer was named Bevo in the first place, with the rival Texas A&M Aggies trying to take the credit amid fierce rebuttal from their counterparts in burnt orange.
16. Cowboy Joe, Wyoming: A misleading name, Cowboy Joe is not the pistol-toting mascot patrolling the sidelines of Wyoming games. That would be Pistol Pete. Since you you can't have two Pistol Petes on the list, Pete's partner in crime ends up at 16. Cowboy Joe, however, is not a cowboy at all; rather, it is a pony that is trotted around on the field after a score.
15. Captain Cane, Tulsa: With apologies to Rocky the Rocket, Captain Cane is the only superhero on this list. It is not clear what exactly his superpowers are, however, he does have a sword that resembles lightning, and that has to be able to do some kind of damage.
14. Cocky, South Carolina:While he may look unassuming, Cocky cracks the top 15 because of the great irony that surrounds him. Any team coached by Steve Spurrier will undoubtedly carry some of the Ole' Ball Coach's swagger, and therefore, it doesn't get any more fitting than having a mascot named Cocky.
13. The Oregon Duck, Oregon: Every season, the Oregon Duck goes against all of his natural instincts to stay in the pacific northwest to root on his football team. This is especially commendable as the urge to migrate south must be especially strong when he sees some of the uniforms his team has donned.
12. Ramblin' Wreck, Georgia Tech: The first vehicle to make an appearance on the list, the Ramblin' Wreck from Georgia Tech is a 1930 Ford Model A that is driven out onto the field before Yellow Jackets' home games.
11. Brutus Buckeye, Ohio State: While a buckeye is merely a tree common to the state of Ohio, Brutus Buckeye has been personifying that tree in Columbus since 1965. Although his place on this list may not be as high if another tree were the official mascot of its school, he earns his spot just outside the top 10 for giving a face to the team nickname that many do not understand the meaning of.
10. Ralphie, Colorado: Another mascot of the live variety, Ralphie has been charging across the field before Colorado football games since 1966. Ralphie finds himself in the top 10 because there is no mascot in the country with a cooler (and more dangerous) looking entrance onto the field.
9. Herbie Husker, Nebraska: When Nebraska moved to the Big Ten, many mascot commentators wondered how Herbie would fare having to oppose some of the mascot titans in his new conference. One year in, Herbie is already quieting the doubters, stealing the show in the Big Ten's "Call Me Maybe" (though some well-placed Husker cheerleaders played a big role in that).
8. Hey Reb, UNLV: Hey Reb easily wins the mascot award for the mascot that looks most like that crazy old guy that yells at kids not to throw pine cones into his yard. However, unlike that crazy old neighbor, Hey Reb actually has a wild side and knows how to bust a move at a party.
7. Sooner Schooner, Oklahoma: Although this wagon couldn't really win a fight against many of the other mascots on this list, it was a part of one of the most memorable moments in college mascot history. In the 1985 Orange Bowl, the Schooner was called for a penalty when it was on the field and could not get off due to getting stuck, leading to the disappointment of the Sooners and Barry Switzer. It's not every week that a mascot makes a difference on the field. Unfortunately, for the Schooner, it hurt more than it helped in this case.
6. Uga, Georgia: Since the 1950s, a live bulldog has been appearing on the sideline for Georgia football games. Although controversy has sometimes ensued about his presence, Uga has persevered and held off any potential robot replacement. For this tradition, (and the fact that Uga looks so carefree in his Georgia sweater) Uga finds himself just outside the top 5.
5. The Leprechaun, Notre Dame: The Leprechaun is not nearly as fierce, and certainly not as larger-than-life, as some of its counterparts on this list. However, he scores points due to the clear shamelessness of the person playing the part. Unlike most of the other mascots, there is no huge mask here. Instead, the guy playing the part exposes his face to everyone. And, for having to endure the embarrassment of everyone knowing it's you dancing little jigs in a leprechaun outfit, he has a prime position on this list.
4. Bucky Badger, Wisconsin: The first incarnation of Bucky started appearing at Badger games in the 1940s. He scores huge points for taking on Kate Upton in the YouTube dance craze of 2012, and arguably coming out on top due to his originality.
3. Otto the Orange, Syracuse: There are (to my knowledge) no orange trees in Syracuse. This fact makes Otto all the more impressive, as he has been able to withstand the cold climate in Upstate New York since his creation in 1995. It is likely that he has been able to do it in part because of his lack of fear and aerodynamic shape.
2. Sparty, Michigan State: As an MSU grad, I have said in the past that Sparty is the greatest mascot in the history of sports. And if you told me that he deserves to be number one on this list, I definitely wouldn't put up too much of an argument, especially considering the multiple national mascot championships Sparty has to his credit. However, in the interest of being fair and neutral, I have to knock him down a spot on this list. Not so much for anything he has done wrong as, if anything, Sparty has done just about everything right. It's just that the one ahead of him on this list just barely eeked him out this season (and terrifies me).
1. Mike the Tiger, LSU: Will all due respect to the dogs and buffaloes on this list, the most ferocious (yet lovable) live animal mascots is Mike the Tiger. And he is also the coolest looking. "Mikes" have been on campus at LSU since the 1930s and currently attract over 100,000 visitors each year. Currently, Mike resides in a "top-tier habitat fit for a king" as he attempts to inspire the Tigers back to the BCS championship game.
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Del Pearson is a graduate of Michigan State University College of Law and has been a season ticket holder for Spartan football since 2008. Follow Del on Twitter @DelPearson2.