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How Does College Football Overtime Work? Rules, NFL Differences Explained

Here's an explanation of college football overtime rules. 

With the college football season around the corner, it's a good time to revisit the sport's overtime rules. 

The rules were changed to their current format in 1996. On average, about 32 games go into overtime every year. Many of those games end up being among the most memorable of a given season. 

Last year, Michigan–Ohio State notably went to overtime for the first time, with the Buckeyes prevailing at Ohio Stadium. 

Here's a brief breakdown of college football overtime rules and how they differ from the NFL's. 

What happens after a college football game is tied after four quarters?

The NCAA rules for college football overtime are certainly different from that of the NFL's. In college football, if two teams are tied after the final whistle of the fourth quarter, the teams will meet at the 50-yard line for another coin flip to determine the possession of the first extra period. The visiting team picks heads or tails. The teams will play extra periods until there is a winner. The order of possession changed each period.

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The extra period begins at the 25-yard line, and each team is given the opportunity to score a touchdown or field goal. After the fist team completes its drive with a score or turnover, the opposing team has the same opportunity from the 25-yard line. If the teams are still tied after the second team's possession, they must play another period. If the game goes into a third overtime, they can no longer kick extra points after touchdowns and must instead attempt a two-point conversion.

What's different from the NFL?

There is no sudden death in college football. There is no game clock in overtime, only a play clock. Many have been quick to criticize the NFL for not adopting the college football rules, as NFL games can end in ties and sometimes in anti-climatic ways. Teams are sometimes more cautious in NFL overtime because they want to get better field position, whereas field position doesn't matter in college football overtime. The NFL continues tinkering with its rules and recently shortened regular-season overtime periods from 15 minutes to 10 minutes. This makes the possibility of a tie more likely.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees went on the Dan Patrick Show in March and said he was in favor of implementing the exciting college football system.

“I like it. I like it. I mean, it’s exciting, right?” Brees said. “And you’re limiting the number of plays as well when you give a team the ball at the 20-, 25-yard line. And they’re already in the red zone, they’re already in scoring position, whether it’s a field goal or a touchdown. I think you’re reducing the numbers of plays, it’s exciting for fans, you know it’s situational football. So I wouldn’t be opposed to us doing something like that.”

What's the longest game ever played?

The longest college football game remains a 2003 contest between Arkansas and Kentucky, which spanned nearly five hours over seven overtime periods. Arkansas defeated Kentucky 71–63.