Sudden Death Showdowns: College Football Overtime Rules

John Rizzo

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College Football Overtime Rules

College football overtime rules have long been a subject of fascination and debate among sports enthusiasts. When a game ends in a tie after regulation play, the excitement intensifies as both teams get an opportunity to secure victory in overtime. 

This unique format, distinct from professional football’s overtime rules, has produced some of the most thrilling moments in the history of college football. 

Understanding these rules is crucial to appreciating the drama that unfolds when teams battle it out in the overtime period. 

In this essay, we will delve into the intricacies of college football overtime rules, exploring the key points that govern this exciting phase of the game. 

From the initial coin toss to the alternating possessions and sudden-death format, each element contributes to the tension and excitement that defines college football over time.

College Football Overtime Rules

Here’s a breakdown of the college football overtime rules, including a paragraph description for each point:

Regular Regulation Play

In college football, a standard game consists of four quarters, each lasting 15 minutes. If the score is tied at the end of the fourth quarter, the game proceeds to overtime.

Coin Toss

Before the start of overtime, a coin toss determines which team gets to choose between offense and defense. The winner of the coin toss can decide whether to play offense or defense first.

Possession and Field Position

The team that chooses to play offense first (the offense team) will start their possession at the opponent’s 25-yard line. 

This starting position ensures that the team is already in a position to attempt a field goal if they don’t gain any yards during their possession.

Possession and Scoring

The offense team has a series of four downs to advance the ball toward the end zone and score a touchdown or field goal. 

If the offense scores a touchdown, they are awarded 6 points, and they can attempt an extra point kick or a two-point conversion from the 3-yard line. 

If they score a field goal, they are awarded 3 points. If the offense fails to score any points during their possession, their turn is over, and the other team gets a chance to possess the ball.

Defensive Possession

After the first team’s offensive possession, the opposing team (the defense team) gets a chance to possess the ball. 

They will start their possession at the same 25-yard line. Just like the offense team, the defense team will have an opportunity to score points during their possession.

Alternating Possessions

If the game remains tied after the first overtime period, the teams continue to alternate possessions in subsequent overtime periods until there is a winner. Each team gets an equal opportunity to play offense and defense.

Two-Point Conversion: 

Starting from the third overtime period, teams are no longer allowed to attempt an extra point kick after scoring a touchdown. Instead, they must attempt a two-point conversion after each touchdown scored.

Sudden Death Format

College football overtime follows a “sudden death” format starting from the fifth overtime period. Each team gets one possession to score from the opponent’s 2.5-yard line, and they must attempt a two-point conversion.

If one team scores and the other team does not match or exceed the points, the game ends, and the scoring team wins.

These overtime rules aim to provide an exciting and fair way to break a tie after regulation play while ensuring both teams have an equal opportunity to succeed. 

The alternating possession format ensures a level playing field and keeps the game competitive until a clear winner emerges.

How Long Is A Football Overtime?

Long Is A Football Overtime

In college football, an overtime period typically lasts for 10 minutes. However, there have been rule changes in recent years that have altered the duration of overtime. 

Before the 2021 season, college football overtime was structured differently, and the teams would have possessions from the opponent’s 25-yard line until a winner was determined. 

This format was often criticized for its potential to lead to lengthy and high-scoring overtime periods, which could exhaust players and increase the risk of injuries. To address this concern, the NCAA implemented a new rule for the 2021 season, shortening the overtime duration to just two plays starting from the third overtime period. 

Each team gets one offensive play from the opponent’s 3-yard line, and they must attempt a two-point conversion. If both teams score the same number of points, the game advances to another round of overtime. 

This change was made to reduce the physical toll on players and bring the game to a quicker conclusion. 

The alternating possession format ensures a fair distribution of opportunities between the two teams during overtime, and the 10-minute duration (or two-play format from the third overtime period) allows for an exciting and decisive conclusion to the game.

What Is The Most Overtime In College Football History?

The longest college football game in history was a six-overtime marathon between the Texas A&M Aggies and the LSU Tigers on November 24, 2018. 

This game took place during the 2018 NCAA Division I FBS season. Both teams displayed an exceptional defensive effort and determination to win, resulting in an extended battle for victory. 

The game took place at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas, and it was a highly anticipated matchup between two competitive SEC teams.

Throughout the course of the game, both teams managed to score points in regulation and overtime, leading to a 31-31 tie at the end of the fourth quarter. 

The overtime periods continued, and the teams traded scores back and forth, showcasing their offensive and defensive prowess. 

Finally, in the sixth overtime, Texas A&M secured a game-winning touchdown and a successful two-point conversion, earning a 74-72 victory over LSU. This epic six-overtime game not only provided fans with an unforgettable experience but also established a new record for the longest game in college football history. 

It highlighted the competitiveness and unpredictability that make college football such a thrilling sport to watch. 


How does college football overtime work? 

In college football, overtime begins when the game ends in a tie after regulation play. Each team gets a chance to possess the ball and score points. The offensive team starts their possession at the opponent’s 25-yard line. They have four downs to advance the ball and attempt to score a touchdown or a field goal. 

How many overtime periods are there in college football? 

In college football, there is no limit to the number of overtime periods. Overtime continues with alternating possessions until there is a winner. 

Each overtime period consists of both teams getting a chance to possess the ball and attempt to score. 

How is a winner determined in college football over time? 

The team that scores more points during their possession in a single overtime period is declared the winner of that period. 

If both teams score an equal number of points in a given overtime period, the game advances to another round of overtime, and the process repeats. 

What happens in college football overtime if the game remains tied after multiple periods? 

If the game remains tied after the second overtime period, starting from the third overtime period, the format changes to a two-play system. Each team gets one offensive play from the opponent’s 3-yard line, and they must attempt a two-point conversion.

Can a college football game end in a tie after overtime? 

No, college football games cannot end in a tie after the overtime period. The alternating possession format ensures that one team will outscore the other in a given overtime period, determining a clear winner.


College football overtime rules add an electrifying element to the game, showcasing the determination and skill of players as they vie for victory. 

From the traditional format of starting from the 25-yard line to the recent changes, such as the two-play system from the third overtime period, the rules have evolved to balance competitiveness and player safety. 

The most memorable games in college football history often involve overtime, with teams pushing their limits to secure a win or avert defeat. The drama of these moments, the joy of triumph, and the heartbreak of defeat epitomize the spirit of college football. 

While the record for the most overtime in a game may continue to be challenged in the future, the enduring appeal of college football overtime lies in its unpredictability and the potential for greatness on the gridiron. 

As fans, we eagerly await the next overtime classic that will etch itself into the annals of college football history.

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John Rizzo

I am a professional rugby player in the Washington DC-Baltimore area. I have been playing rugby for over 10 years and have had the opportunity to play in many different countries. I am also a coach for both youth and adult rugby teams. I graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in Sports Management and Marketing. I am currently working on my MPA from American University and plan to pursue this career path after graduating next year. LinkedIn