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Quick Guide to NCAAF College Football Rules

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) governs college football in the United States, with rules that are similar to but not identical to those of the NFL. Understanding the rules of college football can enhance your enjoyment of the game, whether you’re a fan, a player, or a coach. This comprehensive guide covers all the essential rules of NCAAF college football, from the basics of gameplay to specific regulations.

The Basics of College Football

The Field: A college football field is 120 yards long and 53.3 yards wide, including two 10-yard end zones. The field is marked with yard lines every 5 yards and hash marks for alignment.

Teams: Each team has 11 players on the field at a time. Teams are divided into three units: offense, defense, and special teams.

Objective: The objective is to score more points than the opposing team by advancing the football into the opponent’s end zone or through the goalposts.

Game Structure

Quarters and Halves: A college football game is divided into four 15-minute quarters, with a halftime break after the second quarter. Overtime rules differ from the NFL, with each team getting a chance to score from the opponent’s 25-yard line.

Play Clock: Teams have 40 seconds from the end of a play to start the next play, or 25 seconds after certain stoppages.

Downs: The offense has four downs to advance the ball 10 yards for a new set of downs. If they fail, they must turn the ball over to the opponent or attempt a field goal.


Touchdown (6 points): Scored when a player advances the ball into the opponent’s end zone.

Extra Point (1 or 2 points): After a touchdown, the team can attempt a kick for 1 point or a two-point conversion play from the 3-yard line.

Field Goal (3 points): Scored by kicking the ball through the opponent’s goalposts during a play from scrimmage.

Safety (2 points): Scored when the offensive team is tackled or commits a foul in their own end zone.

Offensive Play

Running and Passing: The offense can advance the ball by running or passing. Forward passes must be thrown from behind the line of scrimmage.

Receptions: A receiver must have one foot inbounds for a catch to be considered complete in college football.

Penalties: Common offensive penalties include false start, holding, and illegal formation.

Defensive Play

Tackles and Interceptions: Defenders aim to stop the offense by tackling the ball carrier or intercepting passes.

Sacks: A sack occurs when the quarterback is tackled behind the line of scrimmage before he can throw a pass.

Penalties: Common defensive penalties include pass interference, offsides, and face mask.

Special Teams

Kickoffs and Punts: Used to start the game, after scoring plays, or on fourth down to exchange possession.

Field Goals: Attempted by the special teams unit to score points from a distance.

Returns: Special teams players can return kickoffs and punts to gain field position.

Overtime Rules

Overtime: Each team gets one possession from the opponent’s 25-yard line. If the game remains tied after both teams have had a possession, the process repeats. Starting from the third overtime, teams must attempt a two-point conversion after a touchdown.

Player Safety and Conduct

Targeting Rule: A player can be ejected for targeting, which includes hits to the head or neck area of a defenseless player.

Conduct: Unsportsmanlike conduct penalties can be assessed for taunting, excessive celebration, or other acts deemed detrimental to the sport.

Understanding these rules is crucial for fully appreciating and enjoying college football. Whether you’re watching a bowl game or following your favorite college team, keeping these guidelines in mind will help you understand the strategies and nuances of the game.

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