I don’t know about you, but I’ve enjoyed following this year’s World Cup. The mechanics of the sport are (literally) foreign to me, but we in college football have a lot in common with international soccer. No two sports inspire such levels of insane devotion. No two sports have more pageantry. And no two sports have better team nicknames.

Soccer and college football handle the identification game correctly, where the place of origin (France/Alabama) gets top billing and the nickname (les Blues/Crimson Tide) is relegated to secondary usage. American professional sports do the opposite. Maybe it’s just me, but “Germany vs. England” and “Kansas vs. Missouri” sound like titanic clashes of centuries-old civilizations fighting for the survival of their way of life — in large part because that’s actually true — while “Jaguars vs. Chargers” sounds like a kindergarten soccer game.

And, man, are there some good national soccer team nicknames. We’ve already mentioned France, but how about Nigeria (Super Eagles), Mexico (el Tri), Japan (Samurai Blues) or England (Three Lions)? It’s enough to get me, a verified expert on all things college football aesthetics, ready to take on my most challenging and dangerous ranking yet.

We’ll rank each nickname down by conference and then name the ten best across the entire sport, and we’ll judge each nickname based on two simple criteria:

Originality: The nickname is each team’s best shot at branding itself. What sets your team apart from everyone else? Why are you unique? Anyone can slap a stereotypically fearsome nicknames on themselves like the Tigers or the Lions can call themselves strong. News flash: You’re not. Know what takes true strength to choose as your school’s symbol? A turtle.

Versaility: A distinctive nickname is good. Know what’s even better? A nickname to the nickname, like how the Green Bay Packers are also known as the Pack, the San Francisco 49ers are known as the Niners, the Golden State Warriors as Dubs, and so on.

All that said, let’s get right down to it. We’ll go conference-by-conference in alphabetical order.

American
1. Tulane Green Wave
2. Navy Midshipmen
3. Tulsa Golden Hurricane — Fun fact: Like a lot of teams, Tulsa cycled through a number of unofficial nicknames (Presbyterians, anyone?) before settling on Golden Tornadoes, only to learn Georgia Tech had already taken that name, so they switched from the geographically-correct Tornadoes to the entirely incorrect Hurricane — and then Georgia Tech abandoned Golden Tornadoes for Yellow Jackets. 
4. East Carolina Pirates
5. SMU Mustangs
6. Houston Cougars
7. Cincinnati Bearcats
8. South Florida Bulls
9. Temple Owls
10. Connecticut Huskies
11. UCF Knights
12. Memphis Tigers

ACC
1. North Carolina Tar Heels
2. Florida State Seminoles
3. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
4. Syracuse Orange — ‘Cuse was the Orangemen for decades before dropping the suffix in 2004 for branding reasons. I’m a sucker for any team that simply names itself after a color.
5. Miami Hurricanes — I liken the ‘Canes shortening to Nebraska’s Black Shirts, a moniker that must be earned. The Ed Reed Miami teams? Those were the ‘Canes. The Al Golden teams had to call themselves the Hurricanes. 
6. Virginia Tech Hokies
7. Duke Blue Devils
8. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
9. NC State Wolfpack
10. Virginia Cavaliers
11. Pittsburgh Panthers
12. Louisville Cardinals
13. Clemson Tigers
14. Boston College Eagles

Big 12
1. Kansas Jayhawks — From Wikipedia: “The name ‘Jayhawks’ comes from the Kansas Jayhawker freedom fighter and anti-slavery movement during the Bleeding Kansas era of the American Civil War.” Hell. Yes.
2. Texas Longhorns
3. Oklahoma Sooners
4. TCU Horned Frogs
5. Iowa State Cyclones
6. West Virginia Mountaineers
7. Texas Tech Red Raiders
8. Oklahoma State Cowboys
9. Baylor Bears
10. Kansas State Wildcats

Big Ten
1. Nebraska Cornhuskers — Nebraska is scoring off the charts on the originality scale here. No other school would dare call itself the Cornhuskers, which makes it all the better.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
3. Iowa Hawkeyes
4. Maryland Terrapins
5. Indiana Hoosiers
6. Purdue Boilermakers
7. Minnesota Golden Gophers
8. Wisconsin Badgers
9. Illinois Fighting Illini
10. Michigan Wolverines — Please don’t take this as a slight, Michigan fans. Every nickname to this point is a top-5 nickname in any other conference and top-3 in some. Trying to get in the Big Ten’s top five is more difficult than getting into the Golden State Warriors’ starting lineup. 
11. Penn State Nittany Lions
12. Michigan State Spartans
13. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
14. Northwestern Wildcats — Everyone else in your league is putting it all on the line in the nickname game… and Northwestern comes out here with Wildcats? At a supposed journalism school? I was less disappointed when my 2-year-old threw the remote control in the trash. 

Conference USA
1. Marshall Thundering Herd
2. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
3. North Texas Mean Green
4. Old Dominion Monarchs
5. UTSA Roadrunners
6. Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
7. UTEP Miners
8. Charlotte 49ers
9. UAB Blazers
10. FIU Golden Panthers
11. Rice Owls
12. Florida Atlantic Owls — Rice got here first, so they win the tie.
13. Southern Miss Golden Eagles
14. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

Independents
1. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
2. Massachusetts Minutemen
3. Army Black Knights
4. BYU Cougars
5. Liberty Flames
6. New Mexico State Aggies

MAC
1. Miami RedHawks
2. Central Michigan Chippewas
3. Kent State Golden Flashes
4. Akron Zips
5. Toledo Rockets
6. Ohio Bobcats
7. Northern Illinois Huskies
8. Buffalo Bulls
9. Bowling Green Falcons
10. Western Michigan Broncos
11. Ball State Cardinals
12. Eastern Michigan Eagles — The bottom half of this conference is as bad as it gets. Woof. 

Mountain West
1. Hawaii Rainbow Warriors — Hawaii dropped the “Rainbow” from Rainbow Warriors in 2000 and picked it back up in 2013. Best move that school has ever made.
2. New Mexico Lobos
3. San Diego State Aztecs
4. Air Force Falcons — Falcons is pretty darn unoriginal, but we’re willing to make an exception for the Air Force.
5. Nevada Wolf Pack
6. Colorado State Rams
7. Wyoming Cowboys
8. Boise State Broncos
9. UNLV Rebels
10. Utah State Aggies
11. San Jose State Spartans
12. Fresno State Bulldogs — Everything I said about the MAC applies here, too. 

Pac-12
1. Arizona State Sun Devils — It’s a good thing Herm Edwards wasn’t around when they picked this name.

2. Utah Utes
3. Colorado Buffaloes
4. Oregon Ducks
5. Oregon State Beavers
6. Stanford Cardinal
7. California Golden Bears
8. UCLA Bruins — That UCLA derives its nickname as a smaller version from the UC system flagship’s nickname is a nice wrinkle.
9. Washington State Cougars
10. USC Trojans 
11. Washington Huskies
12. Arizona Wildcats

SEC
1. Arkansas Razorbacks — What you’ve got here is an sonic masterpiece. Arkansas has named itself after an animal no one else dared choose yet is still highly deadly (get yourself in an Oklahoma drill with a feral pig and see how you come out). They chose a compound word that is two rough, action sounds put together — and then picked a nickname to the nickname that is another word altogether. Bravo.
2. Tennessee Volunteers
3. Alabama Crimson Tide
4. South Carolina Gamecocks
5. Florida Gators
6. Ole Miss Rebels
7. Texas A&M Aggies
8. Missouri Tigers — We once again return to Wikipedia: “The name comes from a band of armed guards called the Fighting Tigers of Columbia who, in 1864, protected Columbia from guerrillas during the Civil War.”
9. LSU Tigers — LSU wins the tie over Auburn because LSU simply embraces the Tiger with more enthusiasm. Every time Ed Orgeron says Go Tigahs, an angel gets its wings.
10. Vanderbilt Commodores — This technically checks the originality and versatility boxes in spades, but no one has ever feared a meeting with a Commodore on the high seas or dry land. 
11. Georgia Bulldogs
12. Mississippi State Bulldogs — Georgia got here 60 years earlier. Hail State should have stuck with its original moniker — the Maroons. 
13. Auburn Tigers
14. Kentucky Wildcats

Sun Belt
1. Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns
2. Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks
3. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
4. Appalachian State Mountaineers
5. Troy Trojans — Really, what else can you choose if you’re Troy?
6. Arkansas State Red Wolves
7. Texas State Bobcats
8. South Alabama Jaguars
9. Georgia State Panthers
10. Georgia Southern Eagles

And now for the overall top ten.

Please understand that this was more difficult than choosing a favorite child.

Which I do on a bi-weekly basis.

As all parents should.

All right, enough stalling.

Okay, here we go.

10. 
9. 
8. 
7. 
6. 
5. 
4. 
3. 
2. 
1. 

I will be more than happy to argue these rankings either on here or Twitter, but understand before we start that you’re wrong.

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National columnist - Zach joined the staff in 2012...and has been attempting to improve Doug and Scott's writing ability ever since (to little avail). Outside of football season, you can find him watching the San Antonio Spurs reading Game of Thrones fan theories.