I think everybody's understood this for a while, even if they don't like it: recruits don't care about tradition when it comes to the uniforms they wear in college. Nor should they, because schools and alumni cling to some really unattractive crap for a long time, often for no good reason beyond some limp defense like "well they've worn it since the '50s!"
Nebraska's helmets are dull, but they've been doing that dull thing for decades, even after abandoning that dull offense they did for decades. Michigan's helmets and uniforms are undeniably iconic, and also represent your grandpa telling a long-winded story with no point. Penn State's blank-paper look basically forces 85 kids to wear a nap. Alabama only puts numbers on the lids, which actually works well as a metaphor for the player as nameless and dispensable football cog. Dammit, I just made Alabama's uniforms interesting for the first time. I may never get beyond this setback.
Anyhow, we finally have quantitative evidence of these obvious uniform-related assessments. Pick Six Previews polled a bunch of high school recruits about their opinions on uniforms. These are the results:
I have a few bones to pick here--if you think Texas or USC have bad uniforms, then you're just blind, okay, kids. And Florida State's uniforms have been and will always be awful. Dang Millennials. Florida State's helmet is a re-enactment of an arrow that annually tries to escape that color scheme.
I digress. Point is, high school players much prefer the more modern Oregon-type approach to uniforms than the more traditional approach by most major college football brand names. Both Alabama and Penn State rate high on the bad-uniform side, and there are multiple votes for Michigan, USC, and Texas, as well.
The indifference toward Alabama's or Penn State's or Michigan's uniforms will always be immaterial in recruiting, because it's Alabama and Penn State and Michigan. Aesthetics may be a genuine factor for a few kids but it'll go about two dozen spots down the list of priorities with name-brand schools.
I think Pick Six Preview's Mike Nowoswiat cuts to an important bottom line: there is little-to-no marginal value in rebooting your look if you're Alabama or Michigan. There is some value in that if you're an upstart, like Oregon was, like TCU was, like Baylor was. Maryland's uniforms are polarizing even among recruits, but you know, at least they've noticed that Maryland exists. That's a good chunk of the battle right there. Just make noise. Noise helps; doesn't matter at first if the racket is in any way coherent.
You don't do yourself many favors by sticking to what you've done in the past, unless you're one of those blueblood schools. I like NC State's block-S helmets. But let's be honest: Stanford is Block S University at this point. Sure, NC State's got itself a different twist on the block-S, and that logo is almost a century old and that's cool. Probably nobody's noticed.
State's been really late to the uniform game, and that's been a detriment, superficial though it may feel to me or you. There have been mild improvements here and there, and recently the football program has embraced more alternate looks. The font on the uniforms still looks like it was imagined in crayon by a blind graphic artist, but I have faith that in another couple decades we'll have caught up to 2005.
Basically, it really helps in recruiting if you have a good football team and have had a good football team for a long time, but short of that, it helps to have a team that looks all fancy-shiny-different, which can eventually help along the way to the good football.