CLEMSON -- Most college football fans know Oregon as much for its outrageous neon-trimmed jerseys as for its cutting-edge offense.
Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens said the tradition-smashing jerseys have played a critical role in attracting recruits. Oregon's licensing revenue has tripled over the last six years, and many more times that since debuting its iconic "O" emblem was first seen at the 1998 Aloha Bowl.
Would Oregon's appearance in the BCS title game in January have been possible without the makeover?
"I think it certainly matters," Mullens said.
This season, Maryland -- where Clemson plays at 7 p.m. Saturday -- joined Oregon as a program attempting a marketing coup with a bold new fashion statement. Clemson claims the trend of marketing through helmet and jersey design dates back to 1970, when the school unveiled the tiger paw logo. These programs are believers in the power of marketing and branding in college football. And with the success of Oregon, and the national exposure Maryland has received, this season's fashion statements could accelerate the trend.
Method to Maryland's madness
Maryland broke Twitter.
That was the joke earlier this season when Maryland opened its season in edgy new uniforms, drawing the attention of millions on the social networking site.
Many 35 and older expressed outrage over Maryland's look. But Under Armour boss Kevin Plank, whose company designed the jerseys, said he's more concerned with what 17- and 18-year-olds think. Those are the recruits, and they loved the new uniforms, Plank said.
At Maryland, it looked like someone had glued the black-and-gold checkerboard and red-and-white cross of the state flag -- the coat of arms of the 1st Lord of Baltimore -- to the football helmets.
Maryland's new athletic director, Kevin Anderson, and new football coach, Randy Edsall, wanted to inject energy into a dormant program. Maryland deputy athletic director Nathan Pine referred to it as "rebranding."
"What we are trying to do is really tell an old story," Pine said. "That we are the flagship institution of the state of Maryland. We feel like we got away from those roots with the nickname Terps, and some of that stuff that is not as easily recognizable. So we really made the concerted effort to go with the brand Maryland, and we felt there's no better way to do that through our state flag.
"It was not shock just for shock factor. There was purpose."
Mullens said there is a meaning behind the jerseys at Oregon as well. "I think ours is so much more than uniforms," he said. "It also signifies who we are. That Oregon is a place of pioneering support, a place of innovation that fits with Chip Kelly's offense. It's who we are. I think people want to play at a place that's cutting edge."
The makeover has turned once downtrodden Oregon into a Pac-12 power. Mike Bellotti, who coached at Oregon from 1995-2008, coinciding with the makeover, became the winningest coach in program history.
The early returns on the Maryland makeover? Following the debut of the new look, Pine said Maryland was one of the top 20 searches on the Internet. Edsall saw his Twitter following grow by 70 percent in a week.
Said Pine: "We have really become nationally relevant just from the uniform design."
East Coast vs. West Coast
Oregon and Maryland have marketing help from powerful in-state friends -- Nike and Under Armour.
Under Armour is headquartered in Baltimore, and Plank is a former Maryland special teams captain who has a vested interest in seeing the program improve, hoping to replicate Oregon's path to success.
No program has benefited more from an apparel company than Oregon, where Nike is headquartered just 130 miles down Interstate-5.
"They are the creative geniuses, the best in the business," Mullens said. "We are fortunate to have a strong partnership."
While Nike has unveiled alternative jerseys at a number of schools, including Clemson, none have been as dramatic as those at Oregon, a team that has sported nine different helmets since 1998.
Oregon and Maryland are the apparel rivals' laboratories.
The originators and the haters
In July 1970, the Greenville advertising agency was charged with creating a new athletic logo for Clemson at the behest of new football coach Hootie Ingram, who was replacing Frank Howard.
Former Clemson assistant athletic director George Bennett said that decision ushered in the modern era of marketing in college football. "Hootie came in with the idea there is nothing wrong at Clemson, we just need to put a little pizzazz into the program," he said. "At that point, they weren't zeroed in on a Tigers paw."
During the meeting, Bennett said John Antonio of the ad agency offered the idea of a paw print. The idea gained traction, and with the help of the mold of a Bengal tiger paw from the St. Louis Zoo, it was developed by Helen Weaver.
The logo was unveiled by Clemson on July 21, 1970. Eleven years later, Clemson won its first national title.
Like with the Maryland jerseys, Bennett notes not every Clemson fan was in love with the paw when it debuted.
"You had some people saying, 'Why are we doing away with the Tiger?' " Bennett said.
Oregon also met resistance from traditionalists at first, but those voices diminished in correlation with the team's success. "Fans have embraced the pieces that have allowed Oregon to become a successful program," Mullens said. "People didn't wear different uniforms or different helmets (in 1998), now you are starting to see more people doing it. When you are trying something new, people are going to be skeptical."
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