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Not everyone can be Oregon, but even the Ducks miss sometimes.

In the past decade-plus, wearing alternate uniforms in college football has become all the rage, and while some are incredibly sharp, there have been some significant misses in recent years.

Just as Purdue can come out with the Neil Armstrong/astronaut tributes — which are instantly iconic — it can also wear something that’s questionable at best. Though a team like Michigan doesn’t often wear alternates, there have been more misses than hits when the Wolverines do decide to tinker with their classic look. Meanwhile, Ohio State loves to trot out a different uniform nearly every year, and while the Buckeyes tend to do so in style, they sometimes go far away from their national brand.

With that in mind, what are the worst alternate uniforms for all 14 Big Ten teams in the past decade? Here are my choices.


Ranking the best uniforms in the Big Ten

Indiana Hoosiers

Photo: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana vs. Maryland – 2020

Why did this have to happen, Indiana? Was the camo to try to hide the team from the Terrapins? I mean, the Hoosiers won this game, but this is a uniform that didn’t need to happen. I love camo, I really do, but an all-grey camo look on a team that’s colors are white and red makes little to no sense.

Maryland Terrapins

Photo: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland vs. West Virginia – 2014

Some might prefer this to Maryland’s tradition, very busy, uniforms. But with this iteration that the Terps wore in 2014, while it’s obviously a patriotic nod, it makes Maryland look like it’s a USFL team. Alternate uniforms enhancing the look of a team is one thing. Being completely unrecognizable in every facet is another.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Photo: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Nebraska vs. Illinois – 2014

Nebraska, baby — what is you doing? Honestly, these are tied with the 2012 throwbacks the Huskers wore against Wisconsin, but Nebraska needs to stop trying to wear black. The regular uniforms are excellent, but these alternates scream mediocre arena football team.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Photo: Jim O’Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers vs. Cincinnati – 2013

In trying to find a bad Rutgers alternate (weirdly, it’s very difficult to do) I had to go back to the Scarlet Knights’ beginning in the Big Ten. While trying to find a similar iteration to the ones above, I came across the patriotic version. I don’t know what these are, but thankfully they haven’t been showcased again since.

Iowa Hawkeyes

Photo: Reese Strickland-US PRESS WIRE

Iowa vs. Iowa State – 2012

Iowa is another team that doesn’t usually have bad alternates and their all-black or yellow looks make the smash-mouth team modern and daunting. These, however? I’m not sure why the Hawkeyes decided to look like a bad knockoff off of Notre Dame in pajamas for one game, but hey — whatever works for them.

Wisconsin Badgers

(AP Photo/Omaha World-Herald/Alyssa Schukar)

Wisconsin vs. Nebraska – 2012

Honestly, these aren’t bad, and Wisconsin rarely wears alternates. But something has to make the list and these had a little too clean of a look for a team that’s known for grit.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Photo Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

You can’t really tell from this photo, but everything here gleams. Yes, the uniforms have a little sparkle to them. Now, I’m all for monochromatic looks, and in a way, these aren’t bad. But for Minnesota? I don’t understand what’s happening here.

Northwestern Wildcats

Photo: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern vs. Michigan – 2013

I think the goal of these is to make fans in the bleachers stand up and recite the pledge of allegiance after every first down. I know it seems like I’m hating on a lot of the patriotic looks, and it has less to do with the implementation of the nation’s flag and more with the execution. Again, Northwestern’s colors are completely absent and if that weren’t all, the stitching on the leg makes these way too over the top.

Purdue Boilermakers

Photo: Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue vs. MSU – 2014

Purdue is another school that has really amazing alternates most of the time. The astronaut uniforms from recent memory are among my favorite uniforms of all time — not just alternates. But these, meant to raise cancer awareness, are too much with the neon. You can’t see it on this picture, but the lines on the helmet turn into a cancer ribbon on the back. I like the uniforms themselves, but the helmet negates a bit of it. Again, not terrible, but not as good as the other Boilermakers alternates.

Illinois Fighting Illini

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

So, Illinois hasn’t really worn alternate uniforms in some time, which makes sense, considering they have various iterations of their current setup, with three different helmets and different combinations of colors. Thus, this one is an incomplete.

Michigan State Spartans

Photo: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

MSU vs. Illinois – 2019

I’ve made fun of these plenty, and with good cause. While I’ve been a proponent of MSU wearing alternate uniforms as often as possible, I do not understand how these happened. Why the neon green? Why the big ‘State’ across the chest, also in neon green? Why don’t the pants also feature a neon Spartans logo to tie it all together? These are just a mess and perhaps my least favorite on this list — coming from a school that I think looks sharp a lot of the time, no less.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Photo: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State vs. Nebraska – 2014

What I do not understand is why Ohio State loves to move away from what makes it look daunting? The scarlet doesn’t look as scarlet as usual and the striping on the jersey makes these look like the Buckeyes are taking part in some kind of prison game. If you’re as elite as OSU tends to be, do like you do on occasion and just enhance the uniforms you already have. Make the helmet stripe bigger or change up the numbers a bit. This holistic change is unwarranted and frankly atrocious.

Penn State Nittany Lions

Photo: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State vs. Purdue – 2019

Only Penn State would have an ‘alternate uniform’ that’s basically the same thing it always wears, just with a number on the helmet. Way to really go out on a limb, guys. That said, this is how PSU should do it. And really, there’s not any other examples, so any deviation from the norm makes this list.

Michigan Wolverines

Photo: Eric Seals-Imagn Content Services

Michigan vs. MSU – 2011

Ah, the bumblebee uniforms. I didn’t like them in 2011 and nearly 10 years later, I still hate them. I feel like Michigan coming out wearing these in the MSU rivalry game was the point where Dave Brandon started to lose his luster — even though he had only been on the job for a few months. These were a terrible idea, terrible ‘throwbacks,’ and completely unnecessary. The fact that I could find pictures of them and that they weren’t scrubbed from the internet is an abomination unto itself. Burn them in fire.