College Football Overtime Rules: The Ultimate Guide


A college football wide receiver in blue makes a diving catch.

In college football, games that are tied after four periods go into overtime, bringing in a host of new rules. These rules are meant to create additional action and expedite a winner.

So, how does college football overtime work?

College football overtime begins with teams playing one possession from the 25-yard line. If necessary, they will play a second period, but they must attempt a two-point conversion after a touchdown. Any subsequent periods will only have two-point conversion attempts until a team wins.

This article will explain how college football overtime works, the history of overtime in college football, how college football overtime rules differ from NFL overtime rules, and much more.

How Does College Football Overtime Work?

When a college football game is tied after regulation time, the game goes into overtime. In overtime, there is no game clock. Each team is afforded one possession per period, which lasts until the offense scores or turns over the ball.

The play clock runs as usual in overtime. A game will consist of as many overtime periods as necessary until one team wins the game.

Coin Toss

First, there is a coin toss to determine which team starts with the ball. The team captains join the referees at the center of the field, and a captain from the visiting team will call heads or tails.

Whichever team wins the coin toss gets to choose one of the following:

  1. If they want to start with the ball
  2. Which end of the field they would like to defend/score on

Once the winning team decides, the other team gets to choose the other option.

For example, if the home team wins the coin toss and chooses to start with the ball, the visiting team gets to choose which side of the field they want to defend.

On the other hand, if the home team wins the toss and chooses which side of the field they want to play on, the visiting team decides which team gets the ball first.

The Ball Starts on the 25-Yard Line

Once the coin toss is complete, the team starting the overtime period on offense receives the ball on the 25-yard line. Each team will get one possession in the overtime period, and they will both start on their respective 25-yard line.

The exception to the 25-yard line is if penalties are assessed. Officials will move the ball closer to the goal line if a penalty is assessed on the defense, and move the ball further from the goal line if the offense committed a penalty.

Each possession lasts until the team scores or misses a first down. Once this happens, the other team gains possession of the ball.

Conversions

In the first overtime period after a touchdown, teams can either kick for one extra point or go for a two-point conversion. But, the first overtime period is the only one where they have the option between the two.

Starting in the second overtime period, teams are required to attempt a two-point conversion after a touchdown. No kicks for one extra point are allowed.

Then, there are no more possessions starting at the 25-yard line in the third overtime period. Each team will get one attempt at a two-point conversion each period until one team has more points than the other and wins the game.

More Overtime Rules

For every overtime period, each team will get one timeout. Any timeouts remaining from the regulation period won’t roll over into overtime. Also, if there are multiple overtime periods, unused timeouts won’t roll over between them.

When more than one overtime period occurs, the teams will switch who starts each period on offense. For example, say the home team wins the coin toss and starts on offense in the first overtime period. For the second overtime period, the visiting team will start on offense, and it will switch with each overtime period.

College Football Overtime History

A view of UCLA's football stadium.

College football first implemented overtime in 1996 as a way to eliminate ties.

If there is bad weather or any other reason to end the game for the safety of teams and fans, the game could still end in a tie. If overtime starts, but both teams don’t receive possession of the ball, the current period will be disregarded and the game will end in a tie.

Since overtime was implemented, the rules have changed a few times. These rules affect overtime periods after the first one, and the goal is to keep games shorter.

In 2019, a new rule was introduced that changes the overtime rules beginning in the fifth overtime. According to CBS Sports, instead of each team starting possession at the 25-yard line, the two teams will alternate running two-point conversions until one team wins. This is to limit the number of plays run and limit the physical impact on the players.

In 2021, the rule for mandatory two-point conversions after a certain number of overtime periods was changed. Teams used to be required to attempt a two-point conversion starting in the third overtime period. The rule now states that two-point conversions must be attempted starting in the second overtime period.

Furthermore, according to CBS Sports, the two-point conversion overtimes start in the third overtime period beginning in 2021. In the third overtime period, teams will skip possessions starting on the 25-yard line and only go for two points.

The rules regarding overtime continue to change since longer games pose a risk to players’ health and safety. Making the overtime periods shorter and less intense is beneficial to players.

Longest College Football Game in History

There have been five college football games that have gone into seven overtime periods. All five of the games were played before 2019 when the rules were changed to have overtime periods consist of only two-point conversions after a certain point.

The five games with seven overtime periods are:

  • Arkansas vs. Ole Miss on Nov.3, 2001: Arkansas beat Ole Miss 58-56 when Ole Miss missed their two-point conversion in the seventh overtime.
  • Arkansas vs. Kentucky on Nov. 1, 2003: Arkansas beat Kentucky 71-63 in the early hours of Nov. 2 after four hours and 56 minutes of gameplay.
  • North Texas vs. Florida International University on Oct. 7, 2006: North Texas won 25-22 after a field goal in the seventh overtime.
  • Western Michigan vs. Buffalo on Oct. 17, 2017: Western Michigan won 71-68 after they scored a touchdown in a game consisting of last-minute field goals.
  • Texas A&M vs. LSU on Nov. 24, 2018: Texas A&M beat LSU 74-72 on a two-point conversion.

Now that the rules have changed to prevent long overtime, there likely won’t be many more games added to the list.

College Football vs NFL Overtime Rules

A view of a capacity filled college football stadium.

The NFL overtime rules differ from college football. Overtime will begin with a coin toss, just like college football. But, there is a game clock and a play clock in the NFL, whereas college only has a play clock for each team’s one possession per period.

Here is the official NFL rule regarding how an overtime period will work:

Following an intermission of no more than three minutes after the end of the regular game, the extra period shall commence.

  1. Both teams must have the opportunity to possess the ball once during the extra period, unless the team that receives the opening kickoff scores a touchdown on its initial possession, in which case it is the winner, or if the team kicking off to start the overtime period scores a safety on the receiving team’s initial possession, in which case the team that kicked off is the winner. If a touchdown is scored, the game is over, and the Try is not attempted.
  2. If the team that possesses the ball first does not score on its initial possession, the team next scoring by any method shall be the winner.
  3. If the team that possesses the ball first scores a field goal on its initial possession, the other team (the second team) shall have the opportunity to possess the ball.
    1. If the second team scores a touchdown on its possession, it is the winner.
    2. If the second team scores a field goal on its possession, the team next scoring by any method shall be the winner.
    3. If the second team does not score on its possession, the game is over, and the first team is the winner, subject to (4) below.
    4. If the second team loses possession by an interception or fumble, the down will be permitted to run to its conclusion, and all rules of the game will be enforced as customary, including awarding points scored by either team during the down. If the second team scores a touchdown on the down after regaining possession, it is the winner. Only fouls that require the down to be replayed, fouls that negate a score, or palpably unfair acts will be enforced.

This rule differs from college rules because both teams aren’t guaranteed a possession. If the team that starts on offense scores a touchdown, the game ends immediately. If they don’t score a touchdown, the other team gains possession, and the game plays out until the overtime period ends.

Another difference is that in a regular-season NFL game, a game will end in a tie after one overtime period if no team scores. The overtime period is 10 minutes long, and each team will have two timeouts.

As for playoff games, overtime periods are 15 minutes long, and teams get three timeouts per overtime. Overtime periods will continue until one team is declared the winner.

After two overtime periods, the team who lost the coin toss will have the choice between if they want to start on offense or defense, or which side of the field they would like to play on. After four overtime periods, a new coin toss will take place.

Do You Kick Extra Points in Overtime in College Football?

In college football, teams can only kick for extra points in the first overtime. In the second overtime, they must attempt a two-point conversion, so no kicks for extra points are allowed.

However, teams can kick field goals for three points in either of the first two overtime periods. Starting in the third overtime, teams must attempt two-point conversions until a team wins, so there are no opportunities for field goals.

Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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