College Football Overtime Rules

college football overtime rules

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 aimed to limit the number of snaps and shorten multiple-overtime games.

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

College Overtime Rules

Overtime in college football is different than in the NFL. It starts with a coin toss where the winner chooses one of the coin toss options; to play offense or defense or Which end of the field. College football is not sudden-death. Teams alternate possessions starting at the 25-yard line. There is no game clock and no kickoffs. The first, second, and third overtime periods all have slightly different rules, which we will cover below.

Coin Toss Options

If the score is tied after the end of the fourth period of regulation, the referees and team captains will gather for a coin toss at the 50-yard line, similar to the one held at the start of the game. 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 by each team.

There is no option to defer 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 in 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 in overtime. 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 the hash marks or anywhere in between.

Second Overtime Period

If the score is tied after the first overtime period, the teams 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 afterward.

Third Overtime Period

Once the game reaches three overtimes, teams alternate being on offense, attempting a two-point conversion rather than starting a drive at the 25-yard line. This essentially makes each team’s possession a one-play drive. 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.

List of College Football Overtime Rules

  • Overtime happens if the score is tied at the end of regulation.
  • There is no game clock in college overtime, only the play clock.
  • There are no kickoffs in college overtime.
  • Possessions start at the 25-yard line.
  • Periods consist of each team being on offensive and defense.
  • Possessions last until they score or a turnover is made.
  • The visiting team’s captain will call the coin toss heads or tails.
  • The winner of the coin toss chooses from two options: 1. Offense or defense and 2. Which side of the field to use for both possessions of the first overtime period.
  • The offense can put the ball anywhere on or between the hash marks.
  • Teams get one timeout each overtime period that does not carry over.
  • Additional overtime periods are played if the score remains tied after both teams have had possession.
  • At the start of the second overtime period, teams must run a two-point conversion after touchdowns.
  • At the start of triple overtime and beyond, teams alternate two-point conversions.


How long is overtime in college football?

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 are used if the score remains tied.

Is overtime in college football 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. Since teams are positioned so far downfield on offense, it is difficult for them to take the ball all the way back to their own endzone for a safety.

What was the longest college football overtime game?

The longest college football overtime game lasted nine overtimes. In a 2021 Big-10 matchup between the Illinois Fighting Illini and the #7 ranked Penn State Nittany Lions resulted 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.