College Football Overtime Rules

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When Illinois and Wisconsin walked off the field after their football game ended tied 3-3 in November 1995, it signaled the end of an era in NCAA Division 1-A. The bowl season that year, the first with the newly formed Bowl Alliance, saw a tie-breaker used to ensure an indisputable national champion. The NCAA rules committee then added it to the regular season the following season. Since then, the overtime format has had its supporters and detractors, and provided thrills along with a clear-cut winner. Just ask Arkansas, which played in the two longest college football games, each lasting seven overtime periods.

The basics

  • In each overtime period of college football, both teams get a possession starting at the opponent's 25-yard line. Each team's offense then tries to drive and score from that point. If the teams are still tied after their one overtime possession, the game continues to a second overtime and so on. Starting with the third overtime period, teams are no longer allowed to kick an extra point after a touchdown; they must attempt the two-point conversion.

Timing and Flow

  • There is no game clock in the overtime periods. However, the play clock still runs, and teams can be penalized for delay-of-game. Each team is allowed one timeout per overtime period. The team that plays offense first in the first overtime will play defense first in the second overtime, with the teams alternating first offensive possession in each overtime period.

Strategy

  • The team that wins the coin toss at the beginning of the overtime gets the option of starting on offense or defense for the first possession. In the first 328 overtime games played in Division I-A, now known as the Football Bowl Subdivision or FBS, only four times did the coach opt to have his team play offense first. Why? The thinking is that playing defense first gives the offense the advantage of knowing exactly what it needs to tie or win the game on its possession. Renowned stat analyst William Krasker broke this down on his website, and realized that the team that starts first on defense ultimately wins more than 52 percent of the time.

Combined stats

  • Unlike the NHL's shootout format, any stats accumulated in overtime of an NCAA football game are counted in the total stats for the game. In Arkansas' 71-63 seven-overtime win over Kentucky in 2003, DeCori Birmingham was able to gain 56 rushing yards in the overtime periods, adding to the 140 he had in regulation for a career-high 196-yard effort.

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References

  • Photo Credit fred hall/iStock/Getty Images
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