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Dan McDonald | NCAA.com | October 23, 2021

How college football overtime works

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For much of college football history, teams could play to a tie. Thankfully for the record books and for providing players and fans with an added level of drama, we now have overtime rules in place to determine a winner.

The 1995-96 bowl season saw the introduction of overtime rules to postseason games, with the first overtime game being the 1995 Las Vegas Bowl. Toledo scored a field goal during the first possession of overtime and notched a 40-37 win over Nevada.

Overtime was then added to regular season games beginning the fall of 1996.

Here are the latest overtime rules:

  • In 2021, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved a change to overtime rules. Teams will be required to run a 2-point conversion play after a touchdown when a game reaches a second overtime period. Previously, a 2-point attempt was required after the third overtime period.
  • Also established in 2021, if the game reaches a third overtime, teams will run alternating 2-point plays, instead of starting another drive at the opponent’s 25-yard line. This is a change from the previous rule, which started to use 2-point plays in the fifth overtime period.

HISTORY: The longest overtime games in FBS college football history

The College Football Playoff National Championship Game has seen one overtime game in 2018 when Alabama defeated Georgia 26-23. Georgia was also involved in the only CFP Semifinal game to go to overtime when one game earlier they took down Oklahoma in a 54-48 thriller in the Rose Bowl. It was the first Rose Bowl game in history to go to overtime.

During the BCS era, there were five BCS bowl games that went into overtime:

  • Future 5x-Super Bowl champion Tom Brady led Michigan past Alabama 35-34 in the 2000 Orange Bowl.
  • The 2003 National Championship was decided in overtime as Ohio State used two extra sessions to secure a 31-24 win over Miami (FL).
  • In the 2006 Orange Bowl, Penn State used three overtimes to get past Florida State, 26-23.
  • In the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, underdog Boise State famously used a pair of trick plays to take down powerhouse Oklahoma 43-42 in overtime.
  • And in 2012, Michigan took down Virginia Tech 23-20 in the Sugar Bowl.

TIE BALL GAME: Here are the college football bowl games that have ended in a tie

Here is how overtime works in college football:

  • If a game is tied at the conclusion of four quarters, it goes to overtime.
  • The officials will invite each team's captains (no more than four per team) to the 50-yard line for the overtime coin toss. The designated field captain for the visiting team will call heads or tails. The winning team of the coin toss can either decide to play offense or defense, or which end of the field will be used for both possessions of that overtime period. The decision cannot be deferred.
  • The team that loses the coin toss will exercise the remaining option (e.g. If the winning team decides to play offense/defense, the losing team will decide which end of the field will be used, and vice versa). 
  • Overtime periods consist, through the first two if necessary, of a two-possession series with each team getting one possession on offense and one on defense. The team on offense will always start at the designated 25-yard line (unless relocated by a penalty). The team on offense can choose to start its possession with the football anywhere on or between the hash marks.
  • Each team will receive one timeout for every overtime period. Timeouts not used during regulation cannot be used during overtime and an unused timeout allotted for one overtime period cannot be carried over to another overtime period. Timeouts used between overtime periods will be charged to the succeeding period.
  • Each team retains the ball until it scores or fails to make a first down.
  • The team that scores the most points during regulation and overtime wins the game. If the game is still tied after an overtime period, there will be another overtime period.
  • In 2021, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved a change to overtime rules. Teams will be required to run a 2-point conversion play after a touchdown when a game reaches a second overtime period. Previously, a 2-point attempt was required after the third overtime period.
  • Also established in 2021, if the game reaches a third overtime, teams will run alternating 2-point plays, instead of starting another drive at the opponent’s 25-yard line. This is a change from the previous rule, which started to use 2-point plays in the fifth overtime period.

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