Girl's Guide to College Football

Plays and Scoring

The Swamp at night.

Game objective

The offense's goal is take the ball from their side of the field all the way to the endzone of the other team's side of the field. The field is 100 yards long, with each team "owning" 50 yards. To earn points, teams can score a touchdown (running or passing the ball into the endzone for 6 points) plus an extra point (a single point that the kicker can earn by kicking the ball between the vertical posts and over the bar of the goal posts). If a team runs out of time, is too far away to make a touchdown, or does not have confidence in its ability to score one, they may attempt a field goal for 3 points. A field goal is typically kicked on fourth down (see below) and within the opponent's 35-yard line.

Instead of kicking for the extra point after a touchdown, teams also have the option of attempting to run or pass the ball into the endzone a second time for two points in the two-point conversion. This is rare though, and only used when the team is desperate for points because it is so difficult to achieve. A safety, worth two points, is awarded to the defense when an offensive player is brought down in his own endzone.

The defense's goal is, of course, to stop all of this from happening. They can sack the quarterback (tackling him before he throws the ball). A defensive player may catch, or pick off or intercept the ball when it's in the air, intended for an offensive player, causing a turn over. The offensive players catching, throwing, or running the ball may fumble, or drop, the ball, and if the defense recovers it they will gain possession of the ball.

Timing

There are four quarters in a game, each lasting 15 minutes. The clock is frequently stopped for time-outs and other reasons, so games typically last at least three hours. After two quarters have passed, there is a 30-minute break called halftime, during which there are commercials on TV and the school bands usually play on the field. A game can go into overtime if the score is tied when the clock runs out during the fourth quarter.

The clock is stopped when a player carrying the ball runs out-of-bounds, or when there is an incomplete pass, and temporarily when there's a first down. Each team gets an allotted three time-outs per quarter, which also stop the clock.

Downs

The offense has 4 opportunities, or downs to carry the call 10 yards or more. When the ball is stopped, passed incomplete, or goes out-of-bounds, the play is over and the next play begins. An offense's objective is to get a first down, at which point they have 4 more plays to move another 10 yards. At fourth down, a team will usually punt the ball back to the defense, who then has possession. However, teams sometimes go for it on fourth down if they have only a yard or two to complete and are close to the opponent's endzone. They can also kick a field goal on fourth down.