Ranking the 10 Strangest Mascots in College Basketball
Let's take a break from the 2014-15 college basketball season previews and address a far more important topic: bizarre mascots.
After all, it wouldn't be fair to talk about Saint Louis' outlook for next season without first addressing the elephant-like creature on the sideline. Or wait, is it an elf? Or, maybe a cloud with bat ears and googly eyes?
Whatever it is, the Billiken is one of the strangest mascots in a college basketball world with dozens of really weird stuffed creatures.
You won't find any Bulldogs, Eagles, Tigers or Wildcats on this list. Just some of most unique characters the game has to offer.
As far as ranking logic goes, mascots were ranked loosely by the perceived ability of an average college basketball fan to identify the creature being depicted and explain its connection to the school it represents.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
While the Yellow Jacket in Georgia Tech's logo is pretty fierce, the mascot looks like some kind of hybrid between a caterpillar and Winnie the Pooh. It'd be one thing if there was no other precedent for bee creatures as mascots, but Sacramento State's Herky the Hornet makes Buzz look downright pathetic.
Tulsa Golden Hurricane
I'm not entirely sure how one goes about anthropomorphizing a hurricane, but making "Captain Cane" look like Buzz Lightyear as a Lucha Libre wrestler doesn't seem like it should have been option A. At least they're trying to resemble the right natural disaster these days. Their old mascot was totally a golden tornado.
Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns
Easily one of the best mascots in the country, Cayenne is a man-sized chili pepper with flames stitched onto its arms. Great as Cayenne is, we're all patiently waiting for the day that James Carville becomes the official mascot.
Youngstown State Penguins
The emperor penguins known as Pete and Penny are among the cutest mascots in the history of sport. But why in the world is a school in Northeast Ohio known as the Penguins? At least Pittsburgh Penguins is alliterative and makes sense for a sport played on ice.
10. Bradley Braves: Kaboom the Gargoyle
As one the many college basketball teams with a nickname and mascot offensive to Native Americans, the Braves ditched their stereotypically cartoonish mascot in the 1990s.
What they finally introduced in its place this season was extremely bizarre.
To a Bradley alum, Kaboom is probably pretty cool. The name originated from play-by-play man Dave Snell's go-to phrase when the Braves threw down a slam dunk. The creature itself pays homage to the gargoyles that have been on Bradley Hall for more than a century.
But if you aren't well versed in Bradley history, it's just a creepy bat-like creature with eyebrows that put Anthony Davis to shame. Any parent allowing a child under the age of 10 to come within 50 feet of Kaboom is just begging for a week's worth of nightmares.
9. UC Irvine: Peter the Anteater
Are anteaters indigenous to Irvine, CA? Of course not.
UC Irvine adopted the anteater as its mascot in the 1960s, however, because a rower and two members of the water polo team thought it was a fun antihero.
Pat Glasglow was one of the water polo players. He recently told the school' website about the origins of Peter the Anteater.
I was at the beach thinking about how we were going to be UCI's charter students and how we needed a mascot. It was the '60s. I was part of a generation that questioned everything. So I wasn't thinking about a traditional mascot, like Tommy the Trojan or a bear. Don’t ask me how or why, but the word 'anteater' just came to me.
A lot of people thought we were turning the mascot into a farce. But the anteater was just an antihero. He was kind of standing up for passiveness. But when backed into a corner, anteaters will fight.
He probably could have just said "It was the '60s."
If you think Peter the Anteater is creepy now, take a look back at his transformations over the years. The 1994 version was pretty awesome, but what in the world was UC Irvine thinking in the 1980s?
8. Ohio State: Brutus Buckeye
If Brutus doesn't seem weird to you, then it has clearly been a while since you stopped to think about mascots.
I understand that the Buckeye is the state tree of Ohio, but where else would that rationale work for a mascot?
How many schools in Texas are represented by a 6'4" pecan? What about tulips in Indiana, Kentucky or Tennessee? Forget about the Ducks, how about the Oregon Douglas Firs?
That's just silly.
But for some reason—despite being a living, breathing version of a nut that is poisonous to consume raw—Brutus Buckeye is one of the more popular mascots in the country.
At least candy buckeyes are awesome.
7. Alabama Crimson Tide: Big Al
What should Alabama's mascot look like? Heck if I know. Maybe a crimson version of Pepperdine's amazing Willie the Wave?
What I do know is that "Crimson" and "Tide" in no way suggests an elephant with an oddly oversized and flaccid trunk.
If it was the Alabama Gray Herd or Alabama Ivory Parade, it would totally make sense.
The origin of the mascot allegedly dates back to 1930 when the football linemen were so massive that they were called "Red Elephants."
However, the mascot didn't even make its first appearance until more than 30 years later. Odd that the students couldn't come up with something that either happened during their lifetime or had some sort of connection to the school's nickname.
6. Stanford Cardinal: Tree
The Stanford Tree is definitely the weirdest mascot in college sports.
However, it wouldn't feel right putting this bizarrely colored conifer in the top five because it isn't officially the school's mascot. The tree is the marching band's mascot and serves as the unofficial mascot for the sports teams.
Still, it makes for some annual tradition.
Each year, the person selected to be Tree builds a new costume from scratch—though it tends to always have crazy eyes and a weird mouth and ends up looking like a Christmas tree from Tim Burton's imagination.
Constructing the costume is only a fraction of the battle. The outrageous tryouts to become Tree are right on par with rush week for some fraternities.
All to become an unofficial mascot that has absolutely nothing to do with Cardinal.
5. Wichita State Shockers: WuShock
Who could have possibly guessed that a giant bundle of wheat would end up being a strange mascot?
Between the weird teeth and straw-like hair, WuShock looks like a yellow Incredible Hulk version of Gary Busey.
(Also, what is up with WuShock's nose? That thing is 10 times as phallic shaped as the Washington Monument.)
Creepy as the mascot is, WuShock's history is pretty cool, as it dates back to a time when "the majority of the players earned a stake for college expenses by working all summer in the harvest and threshing and came back tough enough to play 60-minute games."
Reminds me of Jay Williams' quote during this past April's McDonald's All-American game: "Reid Travis looks like he has been outside chopping wood since the age of four."
4. Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders: Lightning
That picture doesn't do it justice, but Middle Tennessee's mascot is a dark blue Pegasus-like creature that is often seen with a lightning logo on its chest.
Aside from the color, though, what in the world does that have to do with Blue Raiders?
Raiders are marauders. They are people who come into your territory for the purpose of pillaging. And perhaps most importantly for today's purposes, they are not mythical winged horses.
The mascot may be weird, but at least it's politically correct. Into the 1970s, the Blue Raiders were represented by a student dressing up as Nathan Bedford Forrest—a Confederate war hero believed to have been the first grand wizard of the KKK.
You didn't misread that. That was literally Middle Tennessee's mascot until the 1970s.
So, you know, bravo to them for getting rid of those ties, but we'd still like to see a mascot that makes sense.
3. Syracuse Orange: Otto
Otto the Orange is one of those "It's just so silly, it works" mascots. Otto was even named the best mascot in the 2014 NCAA tournament by Sports Illustrated.
That doesn't make it any less weird that an orange—a fruit from a tree that has no hope of surviving in frigid Syracuse—is the mascot for one of the top programs in the country.
Otto might be the least intimidating mascot ever.
At least buckeyes are poisonous. At least anteaters are predatory. And if you have a gluten allergy, WuShock is probably downright terrifying.
But an orange? Who is that scaring?
2. Saint Louis Billikens: Billiken
This past March, my wife decided she wanted to do one of those "Which mascot would win in a fight?" brackets. When she got to Saint Louis, she asked me what the heck a Billiken is.
Ever the helpful husband, I pulled up a picture of this weird-looking version of an already weird-looking good luck charm, to which she responded, "So, what exactly is that?"
In a nutshell, that's how weird Saint Louis' mascot is.
Legend has it that the Billiken became the mascot because the football coach in 1911 (John Bender) drew such a resemblance to this elf-like creature that a Kansas City art teacher (Florence Pretz) saw in a dream.
(Let's observe a moment of silence for Bender, who apparently looked like an elephant with a pointy head and one tuft of hair.)
If there's a "weirdest of all" when it comes to the Billiken, it's pretty bizarre that the mascot has two Voldemort-like slits for nostrils as opposed to the relatively normal nose in both the statue and the logo.
1. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers: Big Red
If Elmo and the Phillie Phanatic produced a child, it would probably look something like Big Red.
Go ahead and try to describe the Hilltoppers' mascot to anyone unfamiliar with it.
Otto the Orange may be strange, but at least it is recognizably an orange. The Billiken may be unlike anything else you've seen in your life, but you could at least describe its features to a sketch artist.
Big Red is just...well...big and red.
Were it not for the WKU scrawled across its "stomach," there would be no indication whatsoever that it has any ties to Western Kentucky. Seriously, what about a red blob suggests Hilltopper?
But despite being amorphous and gender neutral, Big Red is one of the more popular mascots in college sports.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.