For the majority of college football history, games could end in a tie. But who wants to watch or play in a competitive game only to have no one walk away from the field with a victory? For the sake of the fans, the players, and the record books, overtime was first introduced to college football for the 1995-1996 bowl season. In this article, we will go over a brief history of college football overtime and explain exactly how NCAA football overtime works.
The first-ever overtime game in college football took place in the 1995 Las Vegas Bowl and ended as Toledo kicked a field goal to win 40-37 against Nevada. After being added to the postseason in 1995, overtime was added to the regular season in 1996. The NCAA football overtime rules stayed unchanged until 2019, when a slight adjustment was made to extremely long overtime games.
NCAA Football Overtime Rules
Here are the current overtime rules for NCAA football:
- If a game is all tied up after four quarters of play, the outcome will be determined by overtime.
- The referees call up each team’s captains to the middle of the field for a coin toss to determine the order of which offense and defense take the field first. The captain from the visiting team will make the call of heads or tails. Whichever team wins the toss can decide if they would like to start on offense or start on defense. Or they can choose which side of the field will be used for the overtime period. The decision after the coin toss cannot be deferred to the other team, like in the NFL.
- The team that loses the coin toss will determine the remaining option. For example, if the winning team chooses to play on offense to start the overtime, the losing team would then choose which end of the field to play on. If the outcome of the game is not determined after the first overtime, the team that loses the coin toss will have the first choice of the two options when the second overtime period begins.
- Each overtime period allows for both teams to receive one offensive possession. The possession will begin at the 25-yard line unless it is moved back by a penalty. The team taking the field on offense can choose to snap the ball from anywhere between the two hash marks.
- Each team is allowed one timeout for every overtime period. A timeout not used during regulation time does not carry over to overtime. And a timeout from one overtime period does not carry over to the next period if it goes unused. Timeouts that are used between overtime periods will count for the subsequent overtime.
- Each offensive team holds onto the ball until they either score or fail to make a first down.
- Whichever team scores the most points during a single overtime period wins the game. For example, if one team scores a field goal on their first possession, but the other team scores a touchdown when they take the ball, the game is over, and the second team has won. If the second team instead settles for a field goal, the overtime period ends in a tie, and there will be a second overtime.
- A new rule starting in the 2019 season states that if a game gets to a fifth overtime, teams will run alternating two-point conversion plays rather than starting from the 25-yard line.
The Longest Overtime Games in College Football History
Part of the reason for the new 2019 rule was the LSU vs. Texas A&M game from 2018. The game ended 74-72 in favor of Texas A&M and was just the fifth game in college football history to play seven overtimes. This game also set the record for the highest-scoring game in FBS history.
The first of these five games to reach seven overtimes was November 3, 2001, when Arkansas beat Ole Miss 58-56. Eli Manning for Ole Miss threw a touchdown pass to Jason Armstead in his first year as a starter with five minutes left in regulation, and the game went on to overtime tied 17-17. Arkansas went for it on fourth and one in the first overtime and ran in for a touchdown. Manning then equalized with another touchdown to Armstead.
In the second overtime, neither team scored. The teams traded touchdowns until the seventh overtime, but Ole Miss failed to convert a two-point conversion to tie the game at 58, and the game was over.
On November 1, 2003, Arkansas beat Kentucky 71-63 in seven overtimes. Arkansas led the game 21-7 at halftime, but Kentucky tied it up with under two minutes to play. Arkansas won after playing for four hours and 56 minutes.
North Texas was the only Division I-A team to never play in an overtime game until October 7, 2006. North Texas led 5-0 at halftime and eventually won 25-22 after seven overtimes. The last of the longest college football overtime games came on October 7, 2017, when Western Michigan beat Buffalo 71-68.