The Worst College Mascots Ever – These 10 Are Sure to Make You Cringe

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College mascots complement a university’s pride, or so the reasoning goes, but the worst college mascots can bring unwanted attention.

In reality, many college mascots draw criticism and even ridicule.

There are countless cases of misguided decisions that led to the appointment of these unintentional clowns, and we’re happy to share a list of our favorites.

(Disclaimer: The word “Mascot” is loosely defined in some instances, either because it’s not official or that it represents only athletics. Some have been lost or retired. Regardless, we push forward.)

From the fringe of the cringe all the way to our lucky winner, here is a top 10 list of the worst mascots in the college world.

Alabama's elephant mascot
Image: Twitter/12News

The low-hanging fruit – or nuts, in Ohio State’s case – are Alabama’s elephant and Ohio State’s Buckeye guy.

These are easily attacked and certainly warrant honorable mention, but what are you really gonna do with a school whose mascot is a nut?

And, though ‘Bama can be blamed for failing to update the elephant story launched in 1920 (there are other origin stories, to be sure), what kind of mascot can you offer if your school’s nickname is just red-colored water?

10. Stanford’s Tree

Stanford tree mascot
Image: Twitter/DreFox_

Many would consider the Stanford tree to be the worst; we believe that the smart kids in Palo Alto chose this alternate route on purpose and enjoy the vitriol.

Experts in self-effacing humor, these geniuses.

After all, the Stanford nickname – changed from “Indians” in the 1970s – is the Cardinal (as in the color; not the bird, which is known to sit in a tree).

Adding to our reasoning is the fact that this tree is technically the Stanford band mascot, so, really, it’s tough to be too critical.

It makes our list because of the attempt to humanize a jiggly tree with lipstick and those Mr. Potato Head eyes.

9. Virginia Tech’s Hokie

Virginia Tech hokie mascot
Image: Twitter/BaileyRoseBoyle

This is a translation of a turkey, or is it?

The word “Hokie” came from a cheer written more than a hundred years ago and had no tie with turkeys. Only much later did some cheery people decide on creating a new creature called the “Hokiebird.”

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Hokie is an adjective that originated some 50 years later.

Not sure you want that definition for your purple turkey: “sentimental, melodramatic, fake, or artificial.”

The Virginia Tech Hokies is the recognized athletic team name, but the issue is that the braintrust coughing up this idea decided on the color purple for their blessed bird.

There is no real momentum created here, only a self-defeating purple turkey.

8. Minnesota’s Goldy the Gopher

Minnesota gopher
Image: Twitter/NachoDonut

The college mascots need not all be fierce and intimidating, but they should not be so soft, cuddly and decidedly unathletic.

Goldy has been called “spirited and beloved” as well as an “anthropomorphized ground squirrel,” so we’re all over the place with this one.

This friendly little thing inspires nothing but a benign sense of average – traits given to vanilla pudding, not a school’s most recognizable representation.

7. UMass’ Sam the Minuteman

UMass mascot
Image: Twitter/CFB Select

This University of Massachusetts example begins an uncomfortable string of human-looking examples of the worst college mascots.

These human-head mascots – given their inability to form any other expression – lead us to infer certain personality characteristics.

Sam has been in ESPN “SportsCenter” commercials and on NBC’s “The Today Show” so he’s a big deal.

In Sam’s case, he appears to know he’s a big deal. He’s just too arrogant and smirky.

He’s the guy you see who thinks he’s above the commoners – and perhaps that’s too close a fit with the trendy, East Coast elite.

He’s probably just a nice guy, but we’re still leaving him on this list.

6. Oklahoma State’s Pistol Pete

Oklahoma State Pistol Pete
Image: Twitter/CFB Select

Pete isn’t doing enough on “leg day” at the gym.

His head is disproportionately large and limits his freedom of movement as he interacts with the Oklahoma State sports supporters.

Can’t be too hard on Pete, though, because he’s modeled after a bad-ass guy who reportedly hunted down confederate gunmen who killed his father. Got two of ’em, too, according to a state newspaper story we read.

Again, though, the head is so big – and Pete appears he’d be more comfortable sitting quietly at a campfire than trying to stir up the masses.

5. George Washington University’s George Washington

George Washington mascot
Image: Twitter/NY Post

The Father of our Country really should have enough athleticism to chop down a cherry tree. These big-headed mascots must be reconsidered.

You really have to do better on this one.

My son spotted the big George head at an event a few years back and suffered night terrors for days afterward. These heads are irregular, intimidating and seem to hold mystical powers over our young.

In 2023, facing backlash from the students, the university changed its nickname from “Colonials” to “Revolutionaries.”

So now, let’s re-imagine big George.

4. Purdue’s Pete

Purdue Pete mascot
Image: Twitter/usc_thermometer

The Boilermakers have a terrific black train — a Victorian-era locomotive — as their true symbol and yet, the walking, interacting mascot was deemed necessary.

“Pete” is only the athletics mascot; the train is the Boilermaker standard.

But these big heads? All the kids are doing it, right? Let’s get ourselves a big, big-headed mascot.

What did they produce? This Pete appears to be a regular citizen in a Midwest state with an expression that says, at best, “I’m a little confused.”

We just don’t know what Pete is planning. He can’t be trusted.

At worst, those dead eyes are definitely covering up some terrible secrets.

3. Nebraska’s Lil Red

Nebraska lil red
Image: Twitter/SpotMonthEnergy

We had to go deep on this one, so forgive the multiple images.

Sometimes you have to see to believe.

Why, Nebraska, why? It’s a blowup doll thing. And it replaced a slightly better huge, human head of a farmer person.

Before that, they used a corn-on-the-cob head.

Nebraska corn head mascot
Image: Twitter/DYKDaily

Talk about something that comes to you in your darkest dreams…

I don’t know. Maybe there’s just no good way to go.

Good news, though. In April 2023, the school introduced the latest “Herbie Husker.”

So that’s something more traditional, less offensive and it captures the school spirit, I suppose.

Nebraska Herbie Huskier
Image: Twitter/keloland

That inflatable doll mascot, if left in place, could well have served as a form of gateway drug leading to deeper problems.

We’d love to see a betting market at the best online sportsbooks open up on if they’ll be replacing Herbie anytime soon. We think he’s here to stay.

2. Louisiana-Lafayette’s Cayenne

Louisiana-Lafayette mascot
Image: Twitter/usmcgatorvet

The school nickname is the Ragin’ Cajuns.

Spicy, eh?

The university receives points for thinking outside the box for its on-field mascot from a decade ago, but this box is grandma’s spice drawer.

I don’t like spicy foods, this mascot scared the jalapenos out of me, it’s tough to rally around something used to enhance the taste of food and the sports programs must have taken offense: “We need enhancements to be successful?”

This mascot left the scene — a ban on cayenne — but the memories remain. The reasoning was that the costumes were too costly. This seems suspicious.

Now they’re talking albino alligators at ULL.

Maybe we should reconsider the cayenne ban.

1. Syracuse’s Orange

Syracuse mascot
Image: Twitter/CFB Select

There isn’t much excitement surrounding the original Syracuse nickname, with one from a story in a periodical called “The Syracusan” that said it was born from the happy relationship between New York and Holland’s House of Orange.

Oh, OK.

Ultimately, Syracuse became enamored of its Orange identity, calling the sports teams Orangemen, and likely thinks that if you hate the mascot, that’s a “you” problem.

Kind of a Stanford thing (“We know it’s a goofy mascot but we love it.”).

Nike convinced Syracuse to dump the “men” in “Orangemen” and promote “Orange” as the nickname.

Money, and good-looking fashion, talks.

The big-headed Orange mascot – a “juiced-up bumbling citrus fruit from which two legs protrude,” according to Sports Illustrated in the mid-1980s – was accepted and cherished.

You know, like a slow-learning pet dog everyone loves.

Otto the Orange has a head so big his chin rests at his belt buckle.

That’s hard to reconcile, but Syracuse fans will tell you the mascot is intentionally among the worst.

We agree.

Jay Dieffenbach
Sports Betting Expert
Jay Dieffenbach
Sports Betting Expert

Jay is a Sports Betting Writer at, and has been working in US sports for more than 20 years. He's worked for Daily Racing Form, the Arizona Republic, The Athletic and FanDuel among other sports and gambling positions.