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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Patrick Andres

Ranking Every Mascot in the 2024 NCAA Tournament Field

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey made a crucial mistake over the last week when he suggested, implicitly, that the NCAA men’s basketball tournament should at some point become the domain only of teams from power conferences.

It was a flagrantly incorrect reading of history that was rightly crushed. The NCAA men’s tournament is not solely the domain of blue bloods, or of mid- or low-major teams for that matter.

The NCAA men’s tournament is the domain of mascots.

That’s right. At no point in American sports do so many mascots get so much airtime in such a short window. If you enjoy anthropomorphic hijinks, this is your month.

With this in mind, let’s rank this March’s constituent critters on a scale of off-putting to awesome—with scattered commentary where appropriate.

Teams without mascots

Illinois and San Diego State do not have school-sanctioned mascots, for fairly intuitive reasons. That leaves us with 66 mascots to rank in this year’s men’s NCAA tournament field.

66. The Tiger (Clemson)

So much of this article boils down to “look at his eyes.” So I beg you, Clemson fans, haters and non-perceivers alike: look at his eyes.

65. Purdue Pete (Purdue)

Strong candidate for the position of “last thing you see before you die.”

64. Cy the Cardinal (Iowa State)

Iowa State is hamstrung a bit by its meteorological nickname. A cyclone walking around might get mistaken for a cinnamon roll. Instead, we get TEETH.

63. Buster Bronco (Boise State)

Almost charmingly lo-fi. Almost. Still beats Western Michigan’s Buster Bronco, who appears on the verge of falling asleep at any moment.

62. Grambling Tiger (Grambling)

A Hall of Famer, as this link reveals. Again, however: look at his eyes.

61. Raider (Colgate)

Nice to see Lord Farquaad is doing well these days.

60. The Lobo (New Mexico)

Mascots are supposed to be agents of hype, correct? The lopsided tongue makes him look oddly tranquilized.

59. Butch T. Cougar (Washington State)

58. Gael (Saint Mary’s)

This is supposed to represent an Irish caricature, I think. Instead, it looks as if he will star in a $200 million Phase Five Marvel movie that earns $5.

57. Charlie and Kitty Catamount (Vermont)

56. Rudy Flyer (Dayton)

“Behold, the Underminer!”

Rudy Flyer fires up the home crowd before Dayton’s 91-86 win over VCU on March 8.

Matt Lunsford-USA TODAY Sports

55. Raider Red (Texas Tech)

54. The Wildcat (Kentucky)

Proof positive that when you’re in the whole “winning championships” business, mascot-related efforts kind of fall by the wayside (see also: Michigan).

53. Thunder the Antelope (Grand Canyon)

52. John B. Hatter (Stetson)

51. Beaker (Morehead State)

50. Lil’ Red (Nebraska)

Inflatable mascots are cheating. You should not, under any circumstances, be (theoretically) able to carry your mascot in a bag. When you talk about carrying around a mascot suit, the verb you use should be “lug.”

49. Rowdy (McNeese State)

48. Bruiser and Marigold (Baylor)

They toe the line between fierce and cute, which is so critical for any mascot. However, it’s difficult to shake the idea that they look like horror-movie Muppets.

47. Cav Man (Virginia)

46. Clyde the Cougar (Charleston)

45. Champ T. Bobcat (Montana State)

Mr. Wuf stayed busy last week as North Carolina State won five games in five days to capture the ACC tournament title.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

44. Mr. and Mrs. Wuf (NC State)

In the “good but not great” tier, Mr. and Mrs. Wuf jump out for their highly formal names. Then again, after the Wolfpack’s ACC tournament run of five wins in five days, they deserve it.

43. Sam the Bulldog (Samford)

42. Spike the Bulldog (Gonzaga)

These two similarly named mascots need to fight.

41. Wilbur Wildcat (Arizona)

40. The Duke (Duquesne)

The unintentionally vaudevillian cane gives him the upper hand against other humanoid mascots. 

39. Seahawk (Wagner)

38. Elbee (Long Beach State)

Bonus points for actually being shaped like a shark, unlike S.J. Sharkie of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks.

37. Willie the Wildcat (Northwestern)

The near-median, average mascot, almost charmingly so. Contrast him, however, with his Kansas State counterpart’s downright freaky vibe.

36. Grizz (Oakland)

35. Bison (Howard)

34. Billy Bluejay (Creighton)

Billy Bluejay carries the Creighton school flag at a home game against Holy Cross in 2022.

Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

33. Iggy (Marquette)

One of the better new college mascots of recent years.

32. Blaze (UAB)

If you’ll allow an obscure Gen Z reference here: many a child from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s was raised on a series of puppet TV programs called Baby Einstein. A lot of mascots evoke that show, but this one really evokes it.

31. Shasta (Houston)

Two mascots for the price of one—a live cougar and an anthropomorphic cougar. Somehow, the duality works.

30. Big Al (Alabama)

29. Aflie, Wolfie Jr. and Luna (Nevada)

Give Nevada credit for living up to its moniker: the Wolf Pack.

28. Big Blue (Utah State)

27. Elwood (Longwood)

This is the rare mascot that tries to do something completely different and sticks the landing. You’ll never see a horse rendered quite like Elwood.

26. SuperFrog (TCU)

Contrary to popular belief, TCU’s mascot is not Hypnotoad from Futurama.

25. Blue Devil (Duke)

Substitute with your least favorite Duke star as needed.

24. Owlsley (Florida Atlantic)

23. Big Jay (Kansas)

Pants are optional for a number of college mascots, including South Carolina’s Cocky. 

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

22. Cocky (South Carolina)

Aside from Nebraska’s Lil Red, Cocky might have the strangest body architecture of any mascot on this list. Impossible to say whether or not he is wearing pants. Ungovernable. 

21. Duke Dog (James Madison)

20. Jack the Jackrabbit (South Dakota State)

How much more entertaining would Space Jam have been if Michael Jordan were the cartoon and Bugs Bunny were live-action? This mascot dares to answer that question.

19. Rameses (North Carolina)

Another double play a la Houston, elevated by his regal name ...

18. Cam the Ram (Colorado State)

... but Cam the Ram gets the incremental edge. Green and gold is a slightly better look for a sheep than powder blue.

17. Bevo and Hook ’Em (Texas)

Bevo is assuredly the only mascot on this list to attempt a murder on live television. Hook ’Em presumably exists to keep Bevo from wreaking havoc in smaller venues.

16. Aubie (Auburn)

15. Bucky Badger (Wisconsin)

We’re heading for the all-timer tier. Gets points for looking nearly identical to his illustrated rendering in real life, which is not the case for all mascots (see Beaker, No. 51).

14. Jonathan (UConn)

13. Handsome Dan (Yale)

12. Griff (Drake)

The Good Pooches Department! Griff takes the title (at least in this tier) due to the little varsity jacket he dons during games.

Griff and the Drake Bulldogs are making their third NCAA tournament appearance in four years after winning the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.

Courtney Crowder/The Register / USA TODAY NETWORK

11. Pete the Peacock (Saint Peter’s)

Maybe this is a residual 2022 overreaction. So be it. How many fowls do you know with mohawks?

10. The Oregon Duck (Oregon)

His name and his precise relationship to Disney are subject to much debate. His sense of chaos is not.

9. Smokey (Tennessee)

8. Bully (Mississippi State)

7. Reveille (Texas A&M)

This is the “Good Pooches Who Also Function as Regional Cultural Symbols” section.

6. Sparty (Michigan State)

Possibly the most famous mascot in the country. Does more commercials than Travis Kelce. Was even on a video game cover in 2008 (NCAA Football 09, for Wii).

5. Albert and Alberta Gator (Florida)

Two more of our most telegenic mascots. Albert in particular starred in one of the most memorable This is SportsCenter ads of all time alongside naturalist Steve Irwin.

4. Cosmo the Cougar (BYU)

This YouTube video title tells no lies. Wherever BYU is playing, Cosmo defying death is sure to follow.

3. Ralphie and Chip (Colorado)

Ralphie is the reason Deion Sanders never has to worry about being the most difficult personality in Boulder to rein in. Chip, Ralphie’s anthropomorphic counterpart, is (like Hook ’Em) presumably more docile.

2. Big Red (Western Kentucky)

If you click on a good amount of the links in this article, you’ll notice a throughline: a lot of mascots claim to be world famous. And then there is Big Red, who has been involved in a $250 million copyright infringement lawsuit in Italy.

1. Zippy (Akron)

In the wise words of Wendy Williams: she’s an icon, she’s a legend, and she is the moment. Just don’t ask her about her Kent State counterpart.

Note: A previous version of this article misstated Samford’s mascot as Spike, which was changed to Sam in 2017.

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