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Mascots are among the most cherished elements of the college experience, especially when it comes to revving up the crowd at game time. These fun characters personify school spirit and get us out of our seats and ready to cheer for our teams. They’re arguably better than a good slogan or a cool campus when it comes to fostering school spirit.
But which ones are the most endearing, and which ones fall flat with fans? To find out, we identified 128 mascots from schools with NCAA Division 1 football teams and asked 1,266 people to score them.
While some college mascots are live animals or people, the classic mascot is a costumed character, so that’s what our survey focused on. Read on to see who landed at the top and bottom of our rankings.
The top mascots in our survey earned high marks for being fun, friendly, and sexy. These lovable characters embody pride in their schools and enthusiasm for their teams — often with some hijinks and killer dance moves for emphasis. You’ll see their likeness on t-shirts, stuffed animals, and water bottles in the campus bookstore.
The results are in, and America’s favorite college mascot is Northwestern University’s Willie the Wildcat. Introduced as a cartoon in 1933, Willie came to life in 1947 when fraternity members dressed up in a handmade costume for a homecoming parade. This guy even has his very own jingle – “Wildcat Victory” – that he dances along to at home games. Nearly 90 years after his creation, Willie can still be found getting the crowd riled up at Ryan Stadium and at iconic NU events such as March Through the Arch, which welcomes incoming freshmen to kick off each school year.
Runner-up Pouncer from the University of Memphis has been boosting the Tigers since 1960. The chubby-cheeked tiger scored higher for friendliness than sexiness, but he clearly won over the survey takers with his boundless enthusiasm for U of M and willingness to jump into a selfie.
Coming in third, South Paw and Miss Pawla from the University of South Alabama rep the Jag Nation together. They made news at the school’s homecoming pep rally in October 2016 when SouthPaw dropped to one knee and proposed to Miss Pawla before a roaring crowd. (She said yes!)
The fourth and fifth spots go to a patriotic pair — the Bird from the United States Air Force Academy and Bill the Goat from the United States Naval Academy. One of the Bird’s unique tricks is parachuting into Falcon Stadium at the start of a game (but only when the costume-wearer is a member of the academy’s Wings of Blue parachuting team). A goat might seem an odd choice for a mascot until you consider that before refrigeration, sailors favored having goats aboard as pets because they provided fresh milk, cheese, and butter, and were content to eat trash.
Despite their best efforts, some mascots are more likely to make us cringe than cheer. The worst mascot in America, according to Americans? Pistol Pete from Oklahoma State University.
The inspiration for Pistol Pete comes from real-life cowboy Frank Eaton, who was born in 1860. His father was killed by vigilantes and, in tracking them down to avenge his death, Eaton became a cowboy. Pistol Pete came to life in 1958, the same year Eaton died.
The second worst college mascot in America is another humanoid Pete with a disturbingly long jaw and vacant eyes — Purdue Pete from Purdue University. Purdue fans steadfastly rejected an attempt to replace his fiberglass head with a plush version in 2011.
The third worst mascot isn’t based on an animal or a human, but rather an anthropomorphic vegetable with a third-degree sunburn: Cayenne from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He’s supposed to represent the Ragin’ Cajuns’ fighting spirit.
Also falling short were Hey, Reb! from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Vili the Warrior from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The mega-mustachioed mountain man started repping the scarlet and gray in 1983 but was retired by the Rebels in January 2021. And with that much facial hair and his cowboy hat pulled low, it’s not hard to see why. Vili also put away his warpaint after more than a decade pumping up the Warriors with Haka dances on the sidelines at Aloha Stadium.
Maybe a sports mascot isn’t the first image that leaps to mind when you think of the word “sexy” — but you wouldn’t be alone if your pulse started racing a bit watching their sideline swagger. You’d even maybe want their beautiful face to adorn your Game Day gear, whether you paint your face in their likeness or sip from cans decorated with custom koozies of these dreamy mascots.
Sexiness can stem from confidence and personality. But with some mascots, six-pack abs, chiseled chins, and a little spandex don’t hurt either.
Rawr… mascots who’ve got it going on
Willie the Wildcat from Northwestern University has the most game. Sure, there are several sexual innuendos we could mention here, but let’s keep it PG, shall we?
Maybe it’s the tight football pants he wears at Ryan Stadium, the way he looks in a suit, or his dedication to school culture that earned him the highest spot on the list. We can’t be sure, but whatever it is, he’s the mascot most likely to get Americans purring. Me-ow, indeed.
Coming in closely behind Willie is the United States Military Academy’s very own Army Mule. With his towering height, bulging biceps, and intimidating stare, it’s not hard to see why. Plus, a mule represents traits that, for many, are sexy: strength, wisdom, and determination.
Mr. Commodore of Vanderbilt University rounds out the top three sexiest mascots. He hasn’t always been the dashing Mr. C we know and love today, though: Not so long ago, he had a head of gray hair and white mutton chops. But he’s changed for the better, and today, his chiseled jawline, strong chin, and fitted suit have landed him among the best-looking mascots in the nation.
Interestingly enough, Mr. Commodore was the only human mascot to crack the top five sexiest. University of Houston’s Shasta took fourth place (have you seen those eyes?) while The Bird’s swagger and confidence landed him in the final spot.
Of course, men and women have different views of what makes a mascot sexy. When we analyzed the sexiest mascots by gender, we found that men find Mr. Commodore, Shasta, and Army Mule sexiest. Women, meanwhile, get riled up by Duke’s Blue Devil, UCLA’s Joe and Josephine Bruin, and Willie the Wildcat.
But we’ll take a hard pass on these…
Unfortunately, not all mascots get our pulses pumping. While men and women may have different tastes, everyone can agree that these characters land squarely in the “friendzone.” Grab the pens you use to take notes in lecture hall because it’s time to note the mascots that aren’t doing a little turn on the catwalk!
Poor Oski. The University of California, Berkeley mascot was named the least sexy in the nation by survey takers. This is certainly no surprise though, given his weak chin, long face, large nose, and, ahem, soft middle.
But let’s cut him a break, as some of these features are often associated with age — and Oski’s been around for a while, having made his debut in 1941.
Oski was followed closely by the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Blaze. While at first glance he may look like a long-tongued alligator or crocodile, don’t be fooled! This fire-breathing dragon made his debut in 1978 when, believe it or not, he was even less sexy. According to UAB lore, he was “furry, pink, [and] nameless” and was “unpopular from the moment he popped out of a box at a game.” Ouch.
Champ the Bulldog has been the official mascot of Louisiana Tech University since 1973 and although he looks intimidating, fans often describe him as “laid-back and friendly.” Unfortunately, that’s not enough to keep him off of the dreaded “least sexy” list, on which he took third place. Is it the teeth? The jowls? We can’t be sure, but one thing is for certain: If this is how he looks when he’s laid-back, we don’t want to know what he looks like when he’s angry.
The University of South Carolina’s Cocky, a cartoon version of a fighting gamecock, and Old Dominion University’s Big Blue, a nearly featureless lion, rounded out the top five.
The study was conducted online with a total of 1,266 participants. All were encouraged to set aside any personal feelings they may have about the teams represented and focus solely on the mascots.
There were 128 mascots in the survey — representing all colleges and universities with NCAA Division 1 football teams that have costumed characters. Not all survey participants viewed every mascot. The 128 mascots were divided among 16 survey questions, each with eight randomized variations. Every survey taker evaluated at least 16 mascots. Each mascot was scored at least 150 times. Questions included multiple-choice rating scales and open-ended comment boxes.
The study participants were 55.4% male, 43.6% female, and 1% non-binary. They ranged in age from 18 to 79, with a median age of 36. In terms of sexual orientation, 85.1% identified as heterosexual, 2.8% as gay or lesbian, 10.9% as bisexual, and the remaining 1.1% preferred not to say.
Geographically, using the four regions defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, survey participation was as follows:
- South, 474
- West, 275
- Midwest, 270
- Northeast, 247
The survey participants broken down by U.S. state or territory are as follows:
- Alabama, 1.58%
- Alaska, 0.24%
- Arizona, 1.66%
- Arkansas, 0.79%
- California, 12.24%
- Colorado, 1.03%
- Connecticut, 1.42%
- Delaware, 0.24%
- District of Columbia, 0.16%
- Florida, 6.87%
- Georgia, 4.19%
- Hawaii, 0.71%
- Idaho, 0.08%
- Illinois, 4.82%
- Indiana, 2.37%
- Iowa, 0.63%
- Kansas, 0.95%
- Kentucky, 1.50%
- Louisiana, 1.03%
- Maine, 0.47%
- Maryland, 2.05%
- Massachusetts, 1.03%
- Michigan, 3.24%
- Minnesota, 1.74%
- Mississippi, 0.79%
- Missouri, 1.66%
- Montana, 0.16%
- Nebraska, 0.39%
- Nevada, 1.26%
- New Hampshire, 0.32%
- New Jersey, 3.55%
- New Mexico, 0.47%
- New York, 7.98%
- North Carolina, 3.32%
- North Dakota, 0.16%
- Ohio, 3.48%
- Oklahoma, 0.63%
- Oregon, 0.39%
- Pennsylvania, 3.87%
- Rhode Island, 0.71%
- South Carolina, 1.18%
- South Dakota, 0.16%
- Tennessee, 1.90%
- Texas, 7.74%
- Utah, 0.87%
- Vermont, 0.16%
- Virginia, 3.16%
- Washington, 2.45%
- West Virginia, 0.32%
- Wisconsin, 1.74%
- Wyoming, 0.16%
Mascots are important to a school’s identity. They are personalities that are inherent to an institution and help students and faculty feel hyped about their alma mater. You can order promotional items inspired by these characters and sell them in your bookstore or use them as recruiting gifts. Your mascots should also always be at campus events so everyone can take pics and share them on social media. A mascot is a branding character that can do a lot to build up the reputation of your school!