Monday, March 25, 2019


college football vs nfl

College football has it’s own cult-like following. Sure the rules and basics are pretty much the same as the NFL but the atmosphere and fanaticism surrounding the game is completely different. ohio state football fansThese fans are straight up CRAZY. Check out any game on a Saturday in the fall and you will be shocked to see the stadium. Ohio State’s stadium holds well over 100,000 people and they are sold out almost every game. And the fans are all dressed head to toe in red.

The strange thing is that even though they really are the same game, most football fans like one or the other; not both college and professional football.

For all intents and purposes,  there are 7 major differences in college vs. NFL. (There are other minor ones but seriously, no one cares.)

I once read, “The biggest difference between college football games and NFL football is that NFL players are considered professionals and are paid more. “

Pardon my French, but, no shit. That quote came from an actual website, but to protect the moronic writer that actually put that on paper, er, blog, I won’t say where. The other difference that they listed was “NFL players are bigger than college players because they work out more since they have paid personal trainers.” Bloody brilliant.

While yes, both of those are true, they are not real distinguishing characteristics between professional and college football. Those are:

  1. There is No Two-Minute Warning in college football: This is key factor close games when time is running down. At the two-minute mark in the NFL, there is a mandatory time-out—or pause in the game—that is not attributed to either team. Gives the team time to regroup and plan. But at the college level, there is no stop of game.
  2. The Two-Point Conversion Starts on the 3rd yard line. In the NFL, it starts from the second yard line. (In other words, in college they try from farther away then in the pros)
  3. Knee-Down: The most important difference between college football and the NFL is that in college, if you are carrying/catching the ball and one of your knees hits the grass, you are done. The play is over. It doesn’t matter if you were tackled or you just tripped over your own two feet; the play is done. In the NFL, you have to be forced down., meaning if you slip and fall and the other team doesn’t touch you, you can get up and keep on running.
  4. The Game Clock: In college football, the game clock stops whenever a first down is achieved, but in the NFL the clock continues to run after a first down (unless the player goes out of bounds or a time out is called). Why is this important? If a team is losing and the clock stops after every first down, it gives the losing college team more time to make a comeback.
  5. The Almost-Out-of-Bounds Catch/Pass Reception: In college football, the receiver must have control of the ball and get one foot down in-bounds for it to be considered a catch. In the NFL, the receiver must have control of the ball and get both feet down. As college players mature, you’ll see them getting both feet down in bounds to show that they have the awareness to play in the NFL.
  6. Overtime: In college, when a game goes to overtime, each team is given equal opportunity to try and score. They each get a turn (possession) from the opponent’s 25 yard line. There is a coin toss and the winner chooses to kick first (defense) or to receive first (offense). The team winning after both teams get a chance to score is declared the winner. In this case, being the defense first is actually a good thing because you get the last shot to score.
  • Also, in college football, there is no such thing as a tie. Overtime continues until someone wins.
  • In the NFL, when a game goes to overtime, the teams play a sudden-death quarter. They also do a coin toss to determine who will kick and receive. But in the NFL, the first team to score by any means, wins the game. In this case you always want to be the offense first because if the other team scores first, the game is over and you don’t even get to try to score.
  • In the regular season, if no one scores after the first OT, the game is declared a tie. In the post season, however, the game goes until there is a clear winner.

Hash Marks. Ah, the hash marks. I had to read 6 different websites, ask on Twitter and annoy my roommate before I finally understood the hash marks. That’s how abstract the definitions were.

Here is my best translation: It may appear like every play takes place in the dead center of the field. It actually does not. If you look, there are two “dashed” lines running down the field that mimic the markers on the sidelines that show what yard the players are on. These dashed lines, or hash marks, are used for ball placement prior to most offensive plays. By having those dashes in the middle, it actually makes the field and area for game play, more wide open.

football field hash marks

Ok got that part? Go ahead, read it again. I actually recommend looking at the field or a game while reading it; that’s what helped me.

So in the NFL, each of those hashes are about 70ft away from the sideline, meaning the space between them is 18’6” wide . In college, those lines are only 60 ft away from the sideline, meaning the playing space in between is about 40 feet (or 20 feet greater than in the NFL). Remember this, it will be important in a few minutes.

Still with me? I promise we are getting to the point.

If the dead ball (player was tackled, etc) occurred in between those hash marks, the next play starts exactly where the ball went down. However….. if the dead ball happened outside the hash marks, that is not the case. Let’s say a player ran the ball out of bounds at the 20 yard line. The next play would not start on the out of bounds line on the 20 yard line nor would it be returned to the dead center of the field. The ball gets placed on the closest 20 yard hash mark.

Um. Ok. Why?
Well, if the ball was placed where it went out of bounds, the offense would be completely restricted. Think about it. They couldn’t pass or run to the right (or left depending on the play) because they would be immediately out of bounds. So instead, the ball is moved to the hash mark to give the offense the opportunity to go right or left. It opens up the field.

Go ahead, read it again. I had to.
Okay so remember like 10 minutes ago when I said that 20 foot difference from college to NFL would be important later? Since the college lines are closer to the sidelines, their field of play is actually 20 feet larger than the NFL’s.

One final note on this. Hash marks/ball placement play a big role for the kicker too. It always seems like they are kicking from dead center but they are not. For field goals, sometimes they are right or left….justified….and that changes the entire angle of their kick.

Ok, now go take a break. Get some chocolate. Watch something ubergirly. you so deserve it!

About the author: Jennifer Taglione is the owner of this fabulous website Stiletto Sports. Despite writing well over 500 posts, she still maintains that she is not a sports writer! She is however a huge fan of Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Mark Sanchez, the Celtics, and totally kicks butt on March Madness brackets! Connect with her by following her on Twitter @StilettoSportsJ and subscribing to her weekly newsletter. For more info check out the About the Editor page!

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15 Responses

  1. Extreme John Said,

    Up until just recently I couldn’t stand the thought of watching College football, now I have really started to get tied into it on Saturday’s. It’s the perfect excuse for another lazy day.

    Posted on November 13th, 2009 at 10:12 pm

  2. Stiletto Jen Said,

    Yeah I was always an NFL girl, but last year I got into Florida & Oklahoma games so I could write about them. and my roommate forces me to watch Ohio State games.
    And anything that supports drinking more, yelling more and another day for chicken wings…I’m all about!

    Posted on November 13th, 2009 at 11:23 pm

  3. Mike Said,

    I’ll admit…I never noticed that college doesn’t have two minute warnings.

    Posted on November 15th, 2009 at 8:57 pm

  4. Stiletto Jen Said,

    I actually just learned another differnce too. In college, the clock stops any time there is a first down. Which of course, is super important in close games!

    Posted on November 15th, 2009 at 9:34 pm

  5. Betty Said,

    I love the name of your website. Your article was very informative and I read and re-read just as you asked. I’ve been learning the rules of NFL football from a book my huband gave me called “A Sportscaster’s Guide to Watching Football” by author Mark Oristano. It’s an enjoyably funny and easy book to read at the sametime explaining the rules of football.

    Posted on December 2nd, 2009 at 2:38 pm

  6. Stiletto Jen Said,

    Aw glad you liked it! Hope I was able to help! Football is so ridiculously & unessesarily complicated to explain! I swear they go out of their way to be confusing and contradicting!

    Posted on December 2nd, 2009 at 9:26 pm

  7. Wade Said,

    I can tell a bunch of girls wrote these comments and article because football is not that confusing.

    Posted on November 16th, 2010 at 10:08 am

  8. Stiletto Jen Said,

    Thank you for taking the time to comment. And to show me once again why I work so hard on this site. It’s guys (I’m assuming you are male from the name Wade and your derogatory comment) like you that made me start this site. Ones who have no patience to help others learn the intricacies of a complicated sport.
    Fact it, football is complicated. Confusing. And downright boring to learn. But once you get to know it, it’s amazing and awesome to watch.
    I’m lucky to have great guys in my life who are patient and understanding and took the time to explain things to me.
    I also have a lot of female friends who did the same. And I thought it would be nice to share my knowledge and ability to teach others in from a fun POV (and not boring) because I know there are a lot of people out there who are not as lucky as I am and who have friends who are, well, frankly, like you.

    And really? You deduced that a “bunch of girls wrote it” because football is not as confusing as I claim it to be? You didn’t get a clue from all the talk of hot male athletes, references to Legally Blonde’s ‘Bend and Snap,” my clothing line specifically for women only or the Stiletto Sports tag of “sports. pink. sparkly. high heeled?”

    Posted on November 16th, 2010 at 12:01 pm

  9. Byron Brown Said,

    Very informative post. Now I can discern the difference between NFL and College Football. Now, I am confident to say that I know!

    Posted on February 14th, 2011 at 4:31 am

  10. Tristan Ohmacht Said,

    Great writeup, except that you contradict yourself here:

    “Since the college lines are closer to the sidelines, their field of play is actually 20 feet larger than the NFL’s…”

    You mean 20 feet smaller. The closer the hash marks are to the sideline, the *less* field you have to play with.

    Thus the NFL field and game are more “open.”

    Posted on August 29th, 2011 at 7:31 am

  11. Stiletto Jen Said,

    Actually no, the college games are more open than the NFL games. The NFL’s field of play (in the hash marks) is only 18.6 feet. College has about 40 feet of play in the hash marks. I had to go back and reread it a couple times. Hash marks are one of those things I never 100% understood but the big difference between college and NFL is that college has more room than the NFL.

    Posted on September 11th, 2011 at 9:43 am

  12. Tristan Ohmacht Said,

    I don’t want to sound argumentative, but you have the concept of a “more open field” backwards.

    In the early 1970s, the NFL wanted to increase passing and scoring to make the game “more exciting.” One of the rules changes the league decided upon to encourage that was the narrower hash marks.

    Think about it. With the hash marks more narrow, at the end of each play the ball is placed more in the middle of the field, opening up more room on both sides of the field for the offense to work with, giving them far more plays to run, particularly in the passing game.

    That made the field more difficult for defenses to defend and…voila! More scoring.

    Thus the concept “more open.” A field providing more offensive play options makes for a more “open” game.

    But don’t take my word for it. See the “Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Football”:

    Posted on September 24th, 2011 at 1:44 pm

  13. Adi Said,

    nice compilation for someone trying to understand college football (or NFL, if the case may be)…

    i dont agree with your conclusion of the hash marks though… NFL is actually giving more room for offensive play by bringing the ball nearer to the center line on more occasions…

    Football is an acquired sport for me (because I grew up following cricket and starting watching foorball since last year only), so I may be wrong, but that’s how I think…

    like your blog… don’t see a lot of women dedicated to sports…

    Posted on January 5th, 2012 at 12:00 am

  14. Marcus Said,

    Hi, saw this while looking up something that occurred to me while watching a college game. I just wanted to say that I appreciated the write up and I’ll definitely share the link to your site with my fiancée. Thank you. I think she will appreciate it. She is just as big a sports fan as me but not so much football. She is a baseball gal and has turned me onto watching pretty much every game our local team plays.

    The comments here are funny as well: “And anything that supports drinking more, yelling more and another day for chicken wings…I’m all about!”

    As for the more “open” field, I agree with Tristan but I get what you meant. The field of play is larger based on where the ball will be spotted, but by being forced closer to the center of the field, the NFL offenses have more options. Any deviation left or right of center, would bias their play calling to one side or the other, making it more easily defensible. But that’s splitting hairs really… It mostly depends on how the plays are called whether there is any real advantage or not.

    I never knew of that difference however so again, thanks!

    Posted on October 18th, 2014 at 6:59 pm

  15. Stiletto Jen Said,

    Log on to , try out wellington cleaners

    Posted on September 16th, 2018 at 8:47 pm

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