As the sun begins to rise on Saturday morning, college campuses begin to buzz. It’s gameday. Students, faculty, parents, alumni, and fans of college football gather at the appointed time to cheer their school’s football team to victory. Whether you’re a freshman who is attending your first game, or a parent looking to learn the rules since your child is going to a “football school,” we’ll help you get ready in time for the big game with our Guide to Becoming a College Football Fanatic.
Introduction to Football 101
There are 128 colleges that participate in the FBS, Football Bowl Subdivision, which is divided into 11 conferences, each comprised of a collection of different schools. Due to broadcasting arrangements, most schools play a slate of games against their conference rivals and only a handful of games against nonconference programs. The most popular and dominant conference is the SEC, Southeastern Conference, which includes the University of Alabama, Auburn University, Louisiana State University, and more perennial favorites. Other popular conferences include the Big 12, Pac-12, and the ACC, Atlantic Coast Conference.
There are also several schools that don’t meet the requirements (enrollment, scholarship allocation, size of football program) for the FBS but that take part in the Football Championship Subdivision.
First in Class
Each school sends their team to play 10 to 13 games over the course of a season, and the top four teams in the country are identified, ranked, and ultimately selected by the College Football Playoff Committee. They use strength of schedule, head-to-head performance against common opponents, championships won, and other factors when selecting the teams who will play for the National Championship. There’s a lot on the line with each and every game, with a single loss jettisoning a school out of contention for a top four spot.
Each college football game takes place over 60 minutes, broken into four 15-minute quarters. After the first two quarters, also known as the first half, the teams break for halftime. This 20-minute break in play gives everyone – fans, coaches, and players alike – a chance to rehydrate before the second half of the game gets underway.
As the clock counts down to zero, it only stops in certain scenarios. Players stop the clock by running out of bounds or throwing an incomplete pass. Officials or referees pause time by initiating a review of a play, penalizing an illegal play, placing the ball after a team earns a first down, or enforcing safety rules. Lastly, coaches can call a timeout to regroup with their team to discuss a play.
Once time expires and if the score between the two sides is equal, a 15-minute overtime kicks into effect. Each team gets the chance to score. The winner is either: the first team to score when the second team doesn’t; the second team to score if they score more points (touchdown or six points versus a field goal or three points). If each team scores, then the next team to score wins. Alternatively, if they’re tied, a second overtime takes place.
If you’re a student who meets the requirements set forth by the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), you’ll earn the eligibility to play for a college football team. Colleges recruit players by offering scholarships, but players also have the opportunity to “walk on” and try out for a squad. With their recruited players and walk-ons, the coaches assemble a team that’s comprised of offensive, defensive, and special team players.
- Offensive Position Titles: Quarterback, Running Back, Fullback, Wide Receiver, Tight End, Guard, Tackle, and Center
- Defensive Position Titles: Tackle, End, Middle or Outside Linebacker, Cornerback, Safety, and Nickle or Dimeback
- Special Team Position Titles: Kicker, Long Snapper, and Punter
What’s the Score?
Football is a game; there is a winner and loser. The team that has the most points at the end of the game is the winner. You can score points by running or passing a touchdown into the opponent’s end zone, which results in earning six points.
Teams have the choice of electing to kick for one additional point, or try for a two-point conversion. That’s where the offense runs another play from the 2-yard line and must get the ball into the end zone on that play.
If they can’t get close enough to score a touchdown, teams may elect to kick a field goal that is worth three points. While not a touchdown, this tactic does put points on the board.
Defenses get in on the fun and earn points through intercepting a pass or recovering a fumble and running either into the end zone. They can also force a safety, where a quarterback or running back is tackled in the end zone while possessing the ball. Safeties are worth two points.
However the teams score, you just want the other team to have fewer points than yours when time runs out in regulation.
Which Teams Should I Be Watching?
Alabama’s Crimson Tide looks to be a favorite after winning the National Championship last season. Not only do they win championships but their players also win individual awards for performance, such as the Heisman Trophy for best overall football player. Florida State returns 11 offensive starters this year, meaning there will be less of a learning curve for the team in their quest to get back to the College Football Playoffs. Michigan continues to restore glory to their program, finishing 10-3 last season, the first under head coach Jim Harbaugh. There’s also the Ohio State Buckeyes, who deliver winning seasons year in and year out for their fans. If there isn’t a team you like among this list, then you should usually root for the school you attend(ed). Nothing beats school pride!
When you’re ready to head to the game, don’t forget to bring your degree in College Football Awareness, a voice that’s ready to cheer, and a heart that’s ready to experience any potential outcome – win or lose. You’ll want to make sure you do all of these things in your school’s colors, and you can find the best official apparel and merchandise for your team at Fanatics.com.