Skip to content

Best College Sports Nicknames (conference rankings)

February 11, 2010

Nicknames say a lot about a team.  Nowhere are nicknames more important than in college sports.  In the pros, nicknames are treated like pieces of property than can be bought, sold, moved, and changed at a moment’s notice.  Seriously, where else but in professional sports would you find teams with such backwards, misplaced names as the Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz, Indianapolis Colts, and Dallas North Stars (yes, I know it’s just the Stars now).  Like a boy named Sue, all of these teams suffer from an identity crisis caused by a name that does not match their surroundings.  When I am commissioner of the NBA someday, my first order of business will be force the New Orleans Hornets and the Utah Jazz to trade nicknames.  No draft picks, no players, just a straight-up one for one name swap.  New Orleans Jazz.  Utah Hornets (it’s the Beehive State, after all).  Beautiful.

Enough about the shortcomings of pro sports nicknames, and on to the beauty of college nicknames.  College nicknames are not as fickle as pro nicknames, which help college nicknames to add to the allure and strengthen the connection with their local communities and fan bases.  Unless you are a Stanford, Miami (OH), or Hawaii fan, you have probably never needed to buy a new t-shirt or hat with your school’s nickname.  But importantly, these names have only changed for reasons of political correctness, not because of owners moving teams around like pawns.  Basically, nicknames in college sports are important to the fans, the school, and the identity of the organization.  With that in mind, I will assign a score to the nickname of each team in each of eight “major” college sports conferences.  Here is my method:

Conferences– BCS (i.e., Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, ACC, and PAC 10) plus WAC and Mountain West.  I will use the most expansive definition of each conference across football and basketball (so the Big East, for example, will include Notre Dame, Providence, etc.).  I know this means we miss out on some great nicknames (e.g., Wichita State Shockers, Manhattan Jaspers, etc.), but I had to build walls around this somewhere.

Rating system– Nicknames are assigned a rating of 1-5 based on the following criteria and then averaged to determine a cumulative c0nference score:

1– Common nickname AND it has little to do with the college or location’s culture/identity

2– Common nickname with some tie-in to the college or location’s culture/identity

3– Uncommon nickname that may not tie well to college or location’s culture/identity

4– Completely unique nickname with poor local cultural ties OR uncommon nickname with substantial ties to college or location’s culture/identity (some nicknames end up here even if they are totally unique, but too obvious- such as Utes and Illini)

5– Completely unique nickname that ties in well with the college or location’s culture/identity

Note: I don’t care about the cute story behind the nickname at each school (because every school has such a story).  For example, just because a priest at Boston College came up with the Golden Eagle nickname as a symbol of power and freedom or some school newspaper held a nickname contest in 1921 doesn’t mean that a common nickname means anything to the identity of the school.  I am looking for nicknames that are both uncommon and “fit in” with the school’s local culture and/or identity.  Now that these perfectly  MECE criteria are set, let’s get on with it.

Final Tally:

1. Mountain West: 3.22– led by Horned Frogs, Lobos, and Aztecs

2. Big Ten: 3.18– led by Hoosiers, Buckeyes, and Boilermakers

3. Big Twelve: 3.00– led by Longhorns, Sooners, Jayhawks, and Cornhuskers

4. ACC: 2.67– Led by Demon Deacons and Tar Heels

5. SEC: 2.58– Led by Volunteers, Razorbacks, and Gamecocks, hurt by Bulldogs (2x) and Tigers (2x)

6. WAC: 1.89– Hurt by Bulldogs, Spartans, and Wolf Pack

7. Big East: 1.88– Led by Friars and Orange, hurt by Cardinals, Huskies, Bearcats, etc.

8. Pac Ten: 1.8– Led by Sun Devils, but hurt by Trojans, Wildcats, Golden Bears, etc.

Team-by-team breakdown (Conferences listed in alphabetical order)


Boston College Golden Eagles: 1

Clemson Tigers: 1

Duke Blue Devils: 2

Florida State Seminoles: 3

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: 2

Maryland Terrapins: 4

Miami Hurricanes: 2

North Carolina Tar Heels: 5

North Carolina State Wolfpack: 1

Virginia Cavaliers: 2

Virginia Tech Hokies: 4

Wake Forest Demon Deacons: 5

Big East

Cincinnati Bearcats: 1

Connecticut Huskies: 1

DePaul Blue Demons: 2

Georgetown Hoyas: 3

Louisville Cardinals: 1

Marquette Golden Eagles: 1

Notre Dame Fighting Irish: 2

Pittsburgh Panthers: 1

Providence Friars: 4

Rutgers Scarlet Knights: 2

St. John’s Red Storm: 3

Seton Hall Pirates: 1

South Florida Bulls: 1

Syracuse Orange: 4

Villlanova Wildcats: 1

West Virginia Mountaineers: 2

Big Ten

Illinois Fighting Illini: 4

Indiana Hoosiers: 5

Iowa Hawkeyes: 3

Michigan Wolverines: 2

Michigan State Spartans: 1

Minnesota Golden Gophers: 3

Northwestern Wildcats: 1

Ohio State Buckeyes: 5

Penn State Nittany Lions: 4

Purdue Boilermakers: 5

Wisconsin Badgers: 2

Big Twelve

Baylor Bears: 1

Colorado Buffaloes: 2

Iowa State Cyclones: 2

Kansas Jayhawks: 5

Kansas State Wildcats: 1

Missouri Tigers: 1

Nebraska Cornhuskers: 5

Oklahoma Sooners: 5

Oklahoma State Cowboys: 4

Texas Longhorns: 5

Texas A&M Aggies: 3

Texas Tech Red Raiders: 2

Mountain West

Air Force Falcons: 2

BYU Cougars: 2

Colorado State Rams: 2

New Mexico Lobos: 4

San Diego State Aztecs: 4

TCU Horned Frogs: 5

UNLV Rebels: 2

Utah Utes: 4

Wyoming Cowboys: 4

Pacific Ten

Arizona Wildcats: 1

Arizona State Sun Devils: 4

California Golden Bears: 1

Oregon Ducks: 3

Oregon State Beavers: 3

Stanford Cardinal: 2

UCLA Bruins: 1

USC Trojans: 1

Washington Huskies: 1

Washington State Cougars: 1


Alabama Crimson Tide: 4

Arkansas Razorbacks: 5

Auburn Tigers: 1

Florida Gators: 2

Georgia Bulldogs: 1

Kentucky Wildcats: 1

LSU Tigers: 1

Mississippi Rebels: 2

Mississippi State Bulldogs: 1

South Carolina Gamecocks: 5

Tennessee Volunteers: 5

Vanderbilt Commodores: 3


Boise State Broncos: 2

Fresno State Bulldogs: 1

Hawaii Warriors: 2

Idaho Vandals: 3

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs: 1

Nevada Wolf Pack: 1

New Mexico State Aggies: 3

San Jose State Spartans: 1

Utah State Aggies: 3

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: