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College Football Overtime Rules

football Overtime
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Football College Overtime Rules

The overtime rules in college football are unique to any other league. Unlike the NFL, college overtime is not sudden death. Many fans prefer the college overtime rules as opposed to the overtime system used by the NFL, as they believe that each team getting an opportunity to score is the fairest solution.

Below we will explain the rules of college football overtime. We’ll cover the coin toss options, new rules, timeouts, strategy, and history.

The Coin Toss

After the end of the fourth period of regulation, the referees and team captains will gather for another coin toss. The visiting team’s captain gets to call the coin toss.

The winner of the coin toss gets to choose between one of two options:

  1. To play offense or defense.
  2. Which end of the field is used for both overtime periods.

There is no defer option in college overtime. The losing team of the coin toss must choose the remaining option.

For example, if the winning team chooses to play offense, then the losing team will choose the side of the field.

The team who lost the original overtime coin toss will have the first choice of the two coin toss options every even-numbered overtime period (second overtime, fourth overtime, etc.). The coin toss winner will have this option in odd-numbered overtime periods (third overtime, fifth overtime, etc.).

First Overtime Period

In overtime, each drive will start at the opponent’s 25-yard line. Each team will have one possession to score a touchdown or field goal, hopefully not turning the ball over in the process.

The amount of time the possession takes does not matter as there is only a play clock and no game clock. The team who gets the ball second will then get one attempt to match or beat what their opponent accomplished. The drive can start on a hash mark or in between hash marks.

Second Overtime Period

If the score is tied after the first overtime period, they will each get an additional chance in the second overtime period to score on a drive starting from the 25-yard line. However, in second overtime periods, any team that scores a touchdown must also attempt a two-point conversion.

Third Overtime Period

Once the game reaches three overtimes, teams alternate being on offense attempting a 2-point conversion rather than starting a drive at the 25-yard line. Additional overtime periods can be played until a winner is determined.


In college overtime, each team gets one timeout per overtime period. They do not roll over to the next period. If a timeout is used in between overtime periods, it counts as a team’s only timeout in the next overtime period played.


In college overtime, there are advantages and disadvantages to choosing offense or defense. Some teams like choosing defense first because they will know how much they will need to score once they are on offense. Others like playing offense first because scoring first will put pressure on the opponent’s offense to do the same.


The college football overtime rules currently in place were instituted in 1996 and are commonly known as the “Kansas Plan” due to the resolution of a tied Kansas high school football game. However, there have been minor modifications since then in order to perfect the overtime model. The most recent changes were made in 2021 and center on the nature of various overtime periods if the game remains tied.

The record for the longest overtime game in history is nine overtime periods, which occurred in 2021 during a matchup between the Penn State Nittany Lions and Illinois Fighting Illini. The previous record for longest overtime game in history was seven overtimes, which occurred on five separate occasions.

Summary of College Football Overtime Rules

  • At the end of regulation, overtime begins if the score is tied.
  • The coin toss is performed at the 50-yard line. The visiting team’s captain will call the coin flip heads or tails.
  • The winner of the coin toss chooses from two options; 1. offense or defense 2. Which side of the field to use for both possessions of the first overtime period.
  • Overtime consists of periods where each team gets a possession starting at the 25-yard line. There are no kickoffs in college overtime.
  • Teams get one timeout each overtime period that do not carry over.
  • There is no game clock, only a play clock and possessions last until they score or a turnover is made.
  • Additional overtime periods are played if the score remains tied after both teams have a possession.
  • The new rule for college football (2021) requires teams to run a two-point conversion after touchdowns starting with the second overtime period.
  • During triple overtime, teams run two-point conversions only instead of starting at the 25-yard line for a normal offensive drive.


How long is college football overtime?

Each overtime period may take 10 minutes or more to complete without timeouts, commercial breaks, and video replay reviews. Overtime in college football is untimed, so it will last until a winner is determined. Additional overtime periods used if the score remains tied.

Is college football overtime sudden death?

No, college football overtime is not sudden death. Instead, each team has an opportunity to possess the ball. The team with the most points at the end of an overtime period wins the game.

Is a safety possible in college football overtime?

Yes, a college football game may end on a defensive touchdown or safety, although these are rare.

What was the longest college football overtime game?

In a 2021 Big-10 matchup between the Illinois Fighting Illini and the #7 ranked Penn State Nittany Lions, the winner was not determined until a ninth overtime was played, resulting in a 20-18 win for the underdog Fighting Illini. Prior to this game, the record for longest overtime game was seven overtimes, which was first accomplished in 2001 and occurred four more times before Illinois and Penn State surpassed that mark 20 years later.

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