For decades, college football bowl games have given teams one final chance to snag a victory before heading into the offseason. But prior to overtime rules being added in the mid-1990s, there was a chance players could head into the winter without that thrill of victory since games could end in a tie.
In the history of official college football bowl games, there have been 26 games which have ended in a tie. Of those, results, four ended with a final score of 0-0.
The first tie — and scoreless tie — came in the "Granddaddy of them all," the 1922 Rose Bowl (then known as the Tournament East-West Football Game), when underdog Washington & Jefferson traveled cross-country to hold powerhouse California to a 0-0 draw.
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The last tie in a bowl game was in 1991 at the Holiday Bowl when BYU and Iowa finished in a 13-13 tie.
The most controversial tie came in the 1988 Sugar Bowl. Instead of trying for a touchdown and the win at the end of regulation, Auburn's Win Lyle kicked a 30-yard FG to tie the game with one second left, sending Syracuse fans home with a sour taste in their mouths.
No bowl game tie has ever played a role in determining a national champion. However, regular season ties — most famously the 1966 Notre Dame vs Michigan State game — have had a hand in determining a champion.
Here are the college football bowl games that have ended in a tie:
- 1922: California 0, Washington & Jefferson 0
- 1924: Washington 14, Navy 14
- 1927: Stanford 7, Alabama 7
- 1988: No. 4 Syracuse 16, No. 6 Auburn 16
- 1944: No. 14 Texas 7, Randolph 7
- 1947: No. 8 LSU 0, No. 16 Arkansas 0
- 1948: No. 10 SMU 13, No. 18 Penn State 13
- 1959: No. 10 TCU 0, No. 6 Air Force 0
- 1974: Texas Tech 6, Vanderbilt 6
- 1978: No. 8 Arkansas 10, No. 15 UCLA 10
- 1936: Hardin–Simmons 14, New Mexico A&M 14
- 1940: Arizona State 0, Catholic 0
- 1985: Arizona 13, Georgia 13
- 1948: Georgia 20, Maryland 20
- 1967 No. 10 Penn State 17, Florida State 17
- 1949: Murray State 21, Sul Ross State 21
- 1954: Arkansas State 7, East Texas State 7
- 1956: Juniata 6, Missouri Valley 6
- 1984: Georgia 17, No. 15 Florida State 17
- 1990: Louisiana Tech 34, Maryland 34
- 1991: BYU 13, No. 7 Iowa 13
- 1937: Auburn 7, Villanova 7
- 1960: No. 9 Alabama 3, Texas 3
- 1970: Alabama 24, No. 24 Oklahoma 24
- 1974: Houston 31, No. 31 NC State 31
- 1947: Montana State 13, New Mexico 13
The addition of overtime rules to settle ties
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.
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 postseason matchups that went to overtime:
- Future five-time 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.
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). The losing team will also have the first choice of the two options for subsequent even-numbered overtime periods, while the team that wins the coin toss will get the first choice for subsequent odd-numbered overtime periods.
Each overtime period consists 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.
Beginning with the third overtime period, teams that score a touchdown must attempt a two-point conversion.
Per new rules passed beginning with the 2019 season, when a game reaches the fifth overtime, teams will begin to run alternating two-point conversion plays instead of offensive possessions that start at the 25-yard line.