Thursday, August 15, 2019

College Football, A Primer: The Rules

Today we continue our primer of college football. See here, here, here, and here for previous posts.

 And we'll go over some of the rules of college football.

The Downs

Now we get into the rules and playing of football. There are some differences between college rules and professional football (NFL). The biggest one is that in college, if you catch a ball near the out-of-bounds marker, you only have to get one foot in bounds for it to be considered "in bounds." In the NFL, you have to get two feet down in bounds.

Football is all about downs. A team on offense (with the ball) has four tries, or downs, to get the ball ten yards forward (toward the end zone). Practically, that's three tries, or downs, because the last, or fourth, down the team will often punt the ball or, if close enough, try a field goal.

Sometimes a team will use the fourth down to try to move the ball. This is called "going for it on fourth down." Teams will try this if the distance they have to go is short and they aren't too close to the end zone the opposite team is trying to get into. If they don't make it then, the team that was on defense gets the ball. This is "giving it up on downs."

A punt happens on a fourth down. The offense will kick the ball (punt it) as far down the field as possible to get the other team far away from the end zone they are headed for. But you don't want it to go you the end zone you're kicking toward because then the other team starts on the 25 yard line. The perfect punt stops behind the 5-year line, meaning the other team is more than 95 yards from the end zone they are heading for. The punting team's players can touch the ball. If the receiving team touches it, it becomes a "live ball" and any team that ends up with the ball will get the ball.

Also, on fourth downs, if they are close enough to the end zone, the team may try a field goal instead of punting. In the pros, this is almost possible from the 40 yard line (40 yards from the end zone). In college, it's more likely if they are past the 30 yard line.

The Officials

The officials are the guys wearing black and white striped shirts. They aren't all referees. The head official is the referee. Each one has a title (such as back judge and linesman, and even umpire) and a job to do. If you want to learn more, go here.

The referee is the one who announces what penalties are (see Penalties) over the PA system and on television. You'll often see him confirming with other officials to determine what penalty there is. When an official sees a penalty, he throws a yellow "flag" (cloth) onto the field to signal to the referee (and everyone else) that there was a penalty.


There are a lot of penalties in football. A penalty is when a player or team breaks a rule. The "punishment" is moving the ball either closer to the end zone (if the defense makes the penalty) or farther from the end zone (if the offense makes the penalty). The distance depends on the severity of the penalty, usually 5, 10, or 15 yards.

Here are some of the common penalties:

Holding: probably called the most. It's when a player holds a player of the opposite team. Both offense and defense can be called for this. This is a 10 yard penalty.

Off Sides: When a defensive player moves forward before the ball is snapped by the center. (All defensive players can move before the ball is snapped, as long as they don't move forward). This is a 5 yard penalty.

False Start: When an offensive player moves before the ball is snapped. (Again, some offensive players are allowed to move behind the front line). This is a 5 yard penalty.

Delay of Game: When the offense doesn't get the ball snapped before the play clock runs out. This is a 5 yard penalty.

Pass Interference: This is when a player prevents an opposing team play from catching the ball by too much grabbing and holding him. Both offense and defense can be called for this. This is a 15 yard penalty and an automatic first down, unless the offense is guilty, then it's just a 15-yard penalty.

Targeting: This is when a player making a tackle leads with his helmet instead of his shoulder. Especially if he hits the other player's helmet. This is a 15 yard penalty, automatic first down, and the player is ejected from the game.

There are lots of other penalties I haven't mentioned. The best way to learn them is to watch the game.

Kickoffs and Punts

Every game starts with a "kickoff." That is when a team kicks the ball down the field to the other team to start the play. Kickoffs also happen after scores and to start the second half. On a kickoff, the ball is placed on a "Tee" and is kicked from that.

A punt is done on a 4th down to get the ball down the field as far as possible. A punt is an offensive play and the defense will attempt to block it. The ball is snapped to the punter who then drop kicks it. The receiving team will try to catch the ball. If they don't, the kicking team will try to "down" the ball as close to the end zone as possible.

Next week we'll go over some details you'll need to know.

No comments:

Post a Comment