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There's a story behind every college mascot. Each one is an important, folksy piece of the school's culture, giving generations of students something to revere and collectively call their own. Of course, to the less spirited, the idea of (basically) grown men and women cheering for a dancing human dressed as an animal is silly, which is why these more unique mascots are so cool. When you see Mike the Tiger at an LSU game, for instance, you don't want to punch him in the gut because, well, he'd probably maul you to death. That's what you want on your side during a closely contested football slugfest. Read on to see if you school's mascot made the cut.
- Chief Osceola and Renegade, Florida State Seminoles: The Noles' pregame ritual is probably the most chills-inducing — definitely the most War Chant-inducing — in all of college football. As fans eagerly anticipate the opening kickoff, Chief Osceola, aboard his appaloosa horse Renegade, charges to midfield in Doak Campbell Stadium and spikes his flaming spear into the turf. The Chief's garb is authentic, designed by the ladies of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which wholeheartedly endorses the traditions of the school.
- Mike the Tiger, LSU Tigers: In most cases, "Tigers" is a cliche school nickname, but in LSU's case it holds special meaning. The name represents the Louisiana troops of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, and their fierce legacy is carried on by the live Bengal tiger. Currently living large in a $3 million habitat on campus featuring a waterfall, flowing stream, pond and lush greenery, Mike VI can be spotted by the opponent's locker room in Tiger Stadium on football game days, an intimidating sight for players already leery of Death Valley and its ferocious fans.
- Traveler, USC Trojans: It's not often that players marvel at the presence of the school's mascot. According to former USC All-American defensive back Nate Shaw, however, Traveler, a white horse ridden by a Trojan warrior, makes an actual impact on the team, "The horse is one of the greatest inspirational devices USC has. It definitely got the adrenaline going when I was playing and I think it still has an effect on the players." Today, Traveler VII patrols the sidelines of Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
- The Masked Rider, Texas Tech Red Raiders: A tradition that predates FSU's or USC's, The Midnight Matador leads the Red Raiders football team onto field at Jones AT&T Stadium before each opening kickoff, working the crowd into a frenzy. Mounted on it is The Masked Rider, a mysterious man or woman donning a mask, bolero hat and a red and black cape. He or she has been Texas Tech's official mascot since the 1954 Gator Bowl, when coach DeWitt Weaver decided his team needed one in order to gain admission into the Southwest Conference to join instate schools Texas and Texas A&M.
- War Eagle, Auburn Tigers: "War Eagle" is the battle cry and fight song of Auburn; not the actual mascot, which is a Tiger. Regardless, the Eagle is cooler than most official mascots in college sports, so we thought we'd include it anyway. It's said that the eagle first appeared at a football game in 1892, when a Civil War vet brought one he found on the battlefield 30 years earlier. Witnesses claimed it got loose and circled the field just before Auburn undertook a game-winning drive to defeat rival Georgia. From that point forward, fans yelled "War Eagle" as a good omen. Since 2006, War Eagle VI has flown over Jordan-Hare Stadium on game day.
- Uga, Georgia Bulldogs: The SEC and most of the nation are familiar with Uga, Georgia's adorable yet testy white English Bulldog. The famous canine has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and in the film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and made headlines — and received praise from the Georgia faithful — for biting an Auburn player after the team scored. Sadly, Uga VII passed away on February 4th due to canine lymphoma, so the latest in line has yet to be selected and introduced.
- Ralphie the Buffalo, Colorado Buffaloes: Colorado has not one, but two live buffalo mascots, Ralphie IV and Ralphie V, both of which pound the turf at Folsom Field with the football team prior to each kickoff. Through the years, each Ralphie has presented a challenge for its five handlers, especially the original, which caused damage to the field in 1966. The Ralphie tradition is so appreciated in the Rocky Mountain region that Ted Turner was inspired to donate Ralphie IV from his Montana ranch.
- Bevo, Texas Longhorns: With his majestic horns looming over the endzone at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, the Longhorns have a distinct advantage when it comes to mascot intimidation. For example, Bevo II charged an SMU cheerleader and Bevo V charged the Baylor band, incidents that certainly gave the Texas faithful something for which to cheer. There have been 14 Bevos total, and the current one, Bevo XII, had the privilege of attending the 2006 National Championship Game in the Rose Bowl, in which the Horns hooked Traveler and his Trojans.
- Raider, Ranger II and General Scott, Army Black Knights: Steady and reliable, the Army's mules have served as its mascots since 1899. The senior mule, Raider, and the two newer mules, Ranger II and General Scott, stroll the sidelines when the cadets are in action, continuing the legacy of their predecessors. Each of them represents the animal's usefulness to military operations through history, when it carried supplies, guns and ammunitions for long distances regardless of the conditions.
- Smokey, Tennessee Volunteers: The familiar, enthusiastic bark of Smokey, a coonhound, echoes through Neyland Stadium on fall Saturday afternoons. The dog secured the gig in 1953 when he barked the crowd into an uproar during a halftime selection contest held by The Pep Club. The late Rev. Bill Brooks provided the first few Smokeys until his death in 1986, at which point his wife and family undertook the caretaking duties. The latest Smokey, Smokey IX, has been faithfully serving since the 2004 Peach Bowl.