College v. Pro: Do You Know the Difference in Football?


By: Jonnathan Chadwick

7 Min Quiz

Image: Wikicommons by Erik Drost / Wikicommons by Mark Ramelb

About This Quiz

Before you attempt to learn the rule differences between college football and the NFL, you must first understand that nobody, at any athletic level, at any location on Earth, knows exactly what a catch is. There's a slight difference between completing a catch in the NFL and NCAA, but terms like "control," "completion" and "football move" are all made up and interpreted differently with every set of eyes. The good thing is most people know the difference between one foot and two feet, so we've defined the bottom half of a catch, but the top half, however, is a toss-up.

When it comes to overtime rules, even NFL players themselves don't know what's going on. In 2008, the Philadelphia Eagles ended an overtime game against the Cincinnati Bengals in a 13 - 13 tie. The 10-year veteran and Pro Bowl quarterback of the Eagles, Donovan McNabb, was ready to go out on the field and win the game, but the game was over. He later admitted he had no idea an NFL game could end in a tie. Because of this moment, most NFL fans will never forget an NFL game can end in a tie, but what about a college football game?

There are a ton of differences between the NFL and NCAA game, and any fan of both has probably recognized them immediately. Take a look at these questions and see if you know the difference between the NFL and college football.

How many feet must land in bounds for a receiver to complete a catch in college football?

Although what is and what isn't a catch is just as grey in the NCAA as it is in the NFL, we do know that college players only need to get one foot in bounds to complete a catch. NFL rules require receivers to land with two feet in bounds to complete a catch.


The last two minutes of the first and second half of an NFL game is called the two-minute warning. When is the two-minute warning in college football?

The two-minute warning functions as a timeout during NFL games. NCAA Division I football doesn't have a two-minute warning during the games. The clock stops every time officials move the sticks to mark a new set of downs.


How long is overtime in the NFL?

If an NFL game ends in a tie, a 10-minute overtime is played. If overtime ends in a tie, then the game is tied, unless it's a playoff game. NFL overtime is 15 minutes in playoff games and can never end in a tie. College football overtime is completely different.


How long is overtime in college football?

College overtime is measured in possessions instead of minutes. It's almost like an inning in baseball. Each team gets a chance to play offense and defense. That counts as one overtime period. After three overtimes, teams must attempt to score touchdowns and two-point conversions, and after five overtimes, teams just trade two-point conversion attempts.


Four of the top five largest stadiums in the world are used for American football. Are they NFL or NCAA stadiums?

Although the NFL is the most popular sport in America, its stadiums don't compare to the NCAA level. The largest stadium of any kind in the U.S. is Michigan Stadium, where the University of Michigan Wolverines play. The only stadium in the world larger than Michigan Stadium is in North Korea. The largest NFL stadium is MetLife in New Jersey, and it doesn't crack the top 20 largest stadiums.


If a college wide receiver completes a diving catch, can he get up and run after the catch?

College players are ruled down as soon as they hit the ground and they don't have to be touched by a defender. NFL players can get up and continue running as long as they're never touched by a defender.


How long is the point-after-touchdown kick in an NFL game?

The NFL end-zone is 10 yards deep. The ball is placed at the 15-yard line during a PAT, making for a total of 25 yards. Then the ball has to be snapped back about seven or eight yards to the placeholder for the kicker to kick it, and that totals about 33 yards. Extra-point kicks were snapped from the two-yard line before 2015 and equaled about 20 yards.


Where do NFL teams take over after the opposing team misses a field goal?

This seems like a small variation but can make a huge difference. The distance between the spot of the kick and the line of scrimmage is about eight yards, which is almost enough yards for a first down in both leagues.


Where is the ball placed after a defensive pass interference?

A pass interference penalty in the NFL places the ball at the spot of the foul. A pass interference penalty in college advances the ball 15 yards, no matter where the spot of the foul is. The NFL implemented replay challenges for interference plays beginning in the 2019-20 season.


In which league does the clock stop every time the offense gets a first down?

The clock stops for every first down in college football so the officials can literally move the sideline chains to the new spot of the ball. The stoppage time is brief and varies depending on how long it takes the sideline officials to move the chains.


How tall are NFL goal posts?

The NFL and NCAA had uniform goal post dimensions once upon a time, but that changed in the 21st century. The crossbar is 10-feet high, and the goal is 18.5 feet wide in both leagues, but NFL goal posts are taller. The NFL posts extend 25 feet above the crossbar. NCAA posts extend 20 feet above the crossbar.


How many challenges does a college coach get per game?

NCAA college coaches only get one challenge per game, but every play is subject to booth review. NFL coaches get two challenges per game, and if they win both of them, they're rewarded a third challenge.


Which of the following is not subject to a booth review in the NFL?

Every single play in college is subject to booth review, which is why coaches are only given one challenge per game. Only scoring plays, turnovers and plays within the two-minute warning are subject to booth review in the NFL. Coaches have two or three challenges per game to review all other plays.


The football is placed in between the hash marks or on one of the hash marks before every snap. How wide are the hash marks in college football?

There are two sets of hash marks running down the football field. In the NFL, the width between the marks is equal to the width of the goal posts (18 and a half feet). The width between the two sets of hash marks in the college game is 40 feet. This gives way to some sharp-angled field goal attempts.


What is the maximum amount of players allowed on an NFL team?

The NFL has strict rules, and teams can only have 53 players on their roster plus another five players on the practice squad. College teams can have up to 125 players on their roster. It's common to see college teams with two or three quarterbacks where NFL teams can barely find one.


If you're a football fan, you've seen both college and NFL footballs. Which one features white stripes?

The NFL football may be slightly larger than the NCAA football depending on how it's inflated, but regulations require similar dimensions. The main difference between the two footballs are the inch-wide white stripes placed near the ends of the football in the NCAA.


In which league is defensive holding a five-yard penalty and an automatic first down?

Defensive holding penalties are automatic first-downs in the NFL in addition to a five-yard penalty. Teams are rewarded 10 yards in the NCAA, but no automatic first down. The down is replayed unless the 10-yard penalty is enough for a first down.


How many yards is a point-after-touchdown kick in the NCAA?

The PAT kick is placed on the three-yard line in the NCAA. The end-zone is 10 yards deep, and the ball is snapped about seven or eight yards before being kicked, so the total yardage of the kick is about 20 yards. A PAT kick in the NFL is about 33 yards.


In what year was the first college football game played?

American universities were around long before American sports leagues, and the first American football game was played way back in 1869. About 100 people in New Jersey watched Rutgers beat New Jersey (later known as Princeton) 6-4. Each score was only worth one point. The first NFL game was played more than 50 years later in 1920.


Almost every college in America has a cheerleading squad that cheers for the football team. Which NFL team doesn't have a cheerleading squad?

Six NFL teams don't have cheerleaders: Packers, Steelers, Bills, Bears, Browns and Giants. The Pittsburgh Steelers were actually the first NFL team to have cheerleaders, but they eventually disbanded the squad after the owners thought it was degrading.


How many games are played during the NFL regular season?

The NFL regular season runs 17 weeks long. Teams have 16 games and one bye-week during the regular season. The post-season consists of a wildcard game, a playoff game, a championship game and the Super Bowl. The most games an NFL team can play is 20. The college football regular season is 12 games.


How many teams make the playoffs in college football?

Dozens of the schools participate in bowl games at the end of the college football season, but there are only four teams in the playoffs that lead to the national championship. Before 2014, there were no playoffs and teams were selected for the championship game based on many factors.


If a college player signals for a fair catch at the two-yard line, where is the ball placed?

Any fair catch within the 25-yard line is considered a touch-back and placed on the 25-yard line in the college game. This is for safety reasons as kickoff returns are some of the most dangerous plays in football. The NFL doesn't have the same rule.


If a college player loses his helmet during a play, he has to sit out the next play. How many plays must an NFL player sit out if he loses his helmet?

This helmet rule doesn't exist in the NFL. If an NFL ball carrier loses his helmet during game play, the play is immediately stopped. Before 2010, an NFL player could still run for a touchdown even if his helmet was ripped off. NFL players don't need to sit out a play for losing their helmet.


NFL defensive backs have a five-yard "bump and run" zone where they can bump and push wide receivers. How many yards is the "bump and run" zone in college football?

College defensive backs can bump wide receivers off their route anywhere on the field as long as there's no pass in the air and the defender bumps the receiver from the front. If the ball is in the air, it'll likely be called as a defensive pass interference.


In which league must players "return the ball to an official or leave it near the dead-ball spot" after every score?

If you thought the NFL had strict celebration rules, you haven't watched college football. All celebrations are illegal in NCAA Division I football. The NFL implemented "excessive celebration" rules in 2006 and then scaled them way back 10 years later. Simply spiking the ball in college is a penalty.


If an NFL ball carrier runs out of bounds with 10 minutes to go in the first quarter, does the clock stop?

Before 2019, the clock only stopped for out-of-bounds plays during the two-minute warning or the last five minutes of the game. Now the clock stops whenever a ball carrier runs out of bounds. In the NCAA, the clock stops on an out-of-bounds play and restarts as soon as the referee is ready.


Which league has the "mercy rule"?

There are hundreds of Division I football teams, so wild mismatches can happen. Because of this, the NCAA has a mercy rule. If team A is beating team B by 60 points at halftime, for example, both teams can agree to shorten the remainder of the game. The NFL doesn't have this rule.


If an NFL kicker drives an onside kick into the ground and it pops high into the air, can the receiving team signal for a fair catch?

The reason why NFL onside kicks always hit the ground first is because the receiving team can simply call for a fair catch if the ball never hits the ground. In the college game, the receiving team can call for a fair catch even after the ball has hit the ground once.


In which league can teams attempt a "fair-catch kick"?

The NCAA doesn't have a fair-catch kick. In the NFL, if a receiving team signals for a fair catch, that team also has the option to attempt a field goal from the spot of the fair catch. Teams would only do this if there was little or no time left on the clock and they didn't have time to get into field goal range.


Calling a timeout just before a kicker attempts a field goal is known as "icing the kicker." How many times in a row are you allowed to ice the kicker in the NFL?

NFL teams are only allowed to call one timeout per dead-ball session. This means no back-to-back timeouts, and coaches can only ice the kicker one time per session. College teams can call as many timeouts as they have whenever they want.


If an NFL team scores a touchdown, they can attempt a two-point conversion. Where is the ball placed when attempting a two-point conversion?

After the NFL lengthened the PAT kick in 2015, two-point conversion attempts skyrocketed. The only way a football team can score one point is via a botched two-point conversion attempt. The offense would have to fumble, and then the defense would have to recover, come out of the end zone and then get tackled back in the end zone for the offense to score a one-point safety.


Where is the ball placed for a two-point conversion in college football?

NFL teams only have to score from the two-yard line to complete a two-point conversion, but NCAA teams have to score from the three-yard line. Both leagues have the one-point safety rule. Canadian football teams have to score from the five-yard line.


Which of these football states doesn't have an NFL team?

There are more than 250 FBS and FCS football teams across the country, but only 32 NFL teams. The University of Alabama is one of the most popular football schools in the world, but the state of Alabama doesn't have an NFL team.


How many teams are in the NFL?

There are 32 NFL teams and 53 players on each team. It's the best of the best in the world. The difference in skill between the league's best and worst team barely exists. The difference in skill between the best and worst NCAA football teams is astronomical since there are more than 250 of them.


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