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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 Best and Worst College Mascots in America
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.
The Best College Mascots of All Time
College mascots can be all kinds of creatures. They can be fierce like Willie the Wildcat or funny like Goldy Gopher. These characters dance, jump, and cheer on the sidelines, bringing a lot of pep and spirit to campus events!
Here is who America voted as the top 10 best college mascots of all time:
- Willie the Wildcat – Northwestern University
- Pouncer – University of Memphis
- South Paw & Miss Pawla – University of South Alabama
- “The Bird” – United States Air Force Academy
- Bill the Goat – United States Naval Academy
- Shasta – University of Houston
- The Oregon Duck – University of Oregon
- Freddie & Frieda Falcon – Bowling Green State University
- Goldy Golpher – University of Minnesota
- Joe & Josephine Bruin – University of California, Los Angeles
1. Willie the Wildcat – Northwestern University
A writer for the Chicago Tribune referred to Northwestern’s football team as looking like “wildcats,” and the school went on to adopt the animal as their official mascot. Willie was first seen on campus in 1947 when students in the Alpha Delta fraternity dressed up as him for the homecoming parade.
2. Pouncer – University of Memphis
Pouncer looks like Tony the Tiger’s long lost cousin. This great college mascot has been part of the University of Memphis since 1960. Any student who wears the mask must be fierce, feisty, and willing to dance in halftime shows. Their efforts pay off as they get a scholarship in exchange!
3. South Paw & Miss Pawla – University of South Alabama
And the winner of best mascot couple goes to…South Paw & Miss Pawla! In the 1970s, the students at University of South Alabama voted for “South Paw” in a mascot-naming contest. Over 20 years later he got a girlfriend, Miss Pawla, and it took him another 20 years to propose. Maybe a Little Paw is in the future!
4. “The Bird” – United States Air Force Academy
The Bird is a blue, costumed version of the U.S. Air Force Academy’s official mascot, real-life aerobatic falcons! These falcons have been trained and handled by cadets since 1956.
5. Bill the Goat – United States Naval Academy
When it comes to awesome mascots, one of the GOATs (greatest of all time) is Bill the Goat of the United States Naval Academy. The costumed version is based on real goats, all named Bill, that have represented the school since 1893.
6. Shasta – University of Houston
The University of Houston is another school that uses a real animal as their mascot. The first cougar was bought from a wildlife preserve in 1947 under the condition that the students could care for its cage and habitat. Since a real cougar would be dangerous on the sidelines at football games, students can cheer on and take pics with a costumed version instead!
7. The Oregon Duck – University of Oregon
Do you think the Oregon Duck looks a lot like Donald Duck? Well, you’re correct! In 1947, the University of Oregon’s athletic director made a deal with Walt Disney to use Donald as the school mascot. This quacker has since done countless pushups and rallied the “Webfoots” to many victories.
8. Freddie & Frieda Falcon – Bowling Green State University
Freddie and Frieda Falcon are another power couple in the world of best mascots. These fly birds were suggested by a graduate who read an article about falconry. Before then, the school had the boring nickname of “The Normals.” The mascots are now hot commodities for the school and need to be booked for events weeks in advance.
9. Goldy Golpher – University of Minnesota
Behold the toothy grin of one of America’s favorite college mascots, Goldy the Gopher! Sports teams at the University of Minnesota were named “The Gophers” for the first time in the 1920s, but it wasn’t until 30 years later that Goldy started showing up at the games. This cheerful mammal is full of school spirit!
10. Joe & Josephine Bruin – University of California, Los Angeles
It may seem crazy, but real bears used to be on the sidelines at UCLA football games! That all changed in 1963 when a cuddly brown bear named Joe Bruin showed up in costume. Four years later a female student put on the Josephine costume for the first time. Now these cute college mascots are a source of pride for the students.
Best College Mascots: Honorable Mentions
- Bevo the Bullhorn – University of Texas
- Uga the English Bulldog – University of Georgia
- Rameses the Ram – Virginia Military Institute
- Sparky the Devil – Arizona State University
- Knightro the Knight – University of Central Florida
The Worst College Mascots of All Time
Some college mascots are more laughable than they are lovable. These characters are ugly, weird, or controversial, depending on who you ask.
Here is who America voted as the top 10 worst college mascots of all time:
- Pistol Pete – Oklahoma State University
- Purdue Pete – Purdue University
- Cayenne – University of Louisiana at Lafayette
- Hey Reb! – University of Nevada, Las Vegas
- Vili the Warrior – University of Hawaii at Mãnoa
- Nittany Lion – Pennsylvania State University
- Flash the Golden Eagle – Kent State University
- Stanford Tree – Stanford University
- Demon Deacon – Wake Forest University
- Chanticleer – Coastal Carolina University
1. Pistol Pete – Oklahoma State University
According to Oklahoma State University’s website, Pistol Pete is more than a mascot, “he is a legend.” This unfortunately didn’t save him from getting voted as one of the worst mascots in America. Pistol Pete first showed up on campus in the 1920s and is still well-loved by the student body to this day.
2. Purdue Pete – Purdue University
With his creepy plastic mask, Purdue Pete looks like he belongs in a home invasion horror movie more than on a college campus. Back in 1940, Purdue’s bookstore hired an artist to create a mascot for the school’s yearbook. 16 years later a student dressed as Pete for a pep rally, complete with a papier-mâché head, and the school has been represented by this character ever since.
3. Cayenne – University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Hot peppers are good on tacos and beef sandwiches, but do they really belong on a college campus? The University of Louisiana at Lafayette sure seems to think so as they’ve rallied behind their “spirit leader” Cayenne since 2000.
4. Hey Reb! – University of Nevada, Las Vegas
What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. In the case of Hey Reb!, one of the strangest college mascots ever, that’s not exactly true. The university has used Reb as their official mascot since 1982, but announced his retirement in 2021. The school still plans on being the Rebels, but are now looking for a new, less controversial mascot.
5. Vili the Warrior – University of Hawaii at Mãnoa
Vili the Warrior is a legend in the world of college football. He was voted as one of the worst mascots ever, so it’s no surprise that the University of Hawaii at Mãnoa nixed him from their athletic programs in 2012. Rest assured, if you loved this larger-than-life warrior, you can still catch him dancing the haka on the sidelines for Louisiana State University.
6. Nittany Lion – Pennsylvania State University
You would probably be more scared of the Cowardly Lion than you would the Nittany Lion. This feline has been used by the school since 1921 since so many mountain lions roamed the area at the time. Now Nittany is considered one of the worst university mascots of all time.
7. Flash the Golden Eagle – Kent State University
Bald eagles are the emblem of the United States of America, but there’s nothing majestic about this bad college mascot. Kent State University has had somewhat of an identity crisis with their mascots over the years. They’ve used a fox, dog, caveman, cowboy, and lightning bolt before settling on Flash the Golden Eagle in 1985.
8. Stanford Tree – Stanford University
The “urban forest” in Palo Alto, California is home to over 60,000 trees. This sunny, vibrant city is also where Stanford University is located, which is why the school uses a tree as their mascot. A tree isn’t exactly threatening, so Stanford isn’t using their mascot to intimidate teams from rival schools. The Tree instead is part of the band and often goes out to perform during halftime shows.
9. Demon Deacon – Wake Forest University
Meet Uncle Sam’s rebellious brother, Demon Deacon. Wake Forest University was the only college in North Carolina that didn’t have a mascot. That changed in 1951 when a fraternity member took on a dare and dressed up as an old Baptist deacon for a football game.
10. Chanticleer – Coastal Carolina University
Do you remember high school English class? You may have been forced to read “The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer. This boring play was oddly the inspiration for Coastal Carolina University’s mascot, the Chanticleer. This teal rooster struts around campus, cheering on the “Chants” during sports games.
Worst College Mascots: Honorable Mentions
- Wushock the Wheat Stalk – Wichita State
- Fighting Okra – Delta State University
- Blue Blob – Xavier University
- Weezy the Boll Weevil – The University of Arkansas at Monticello
- Temoc – University of Texas at Dallas
The Sexiest College Mascots in America
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!
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