In this post we’ll try to break down football for beginners. This is a guide to the most basic understanding of college football; be careful how much of this you share because someone may engage you in a full-on convo about the pro’s and cons about the NFL version of pass interference vs. college. You don’t want to go there. Don’t’ stress, we’ll get you the basics.
Football is one of the most popular sports (this writer would argue it’s THE most popular) in the US. The Super Bowl is the biggest single-day sporting event in the world. The Super Bowl is the penultimate game for the NFL (National Football League) which is the professional league in the US. However, before a player enters the professional ranks, they play in college. The rules are slightly different but the overall goal is simple: score more points than the other team (we’ll get to the terminology later).
American College Football
College football started as an inter-collegiate event between the well-known universities in the 19th century. These included Harvard, Yale, and Rutgers, to name a few. As more and more teams joined the competition, the event divided them by geography, i.e. North, South, East, and West.
Today, the annual revenue generated by the 100 most popular teams in college football amounts to over $3.2 billion. The number depicts the popularity of college football in the United States. Some of the famous stars in college football are even more popular than their professional counterparts.
1. How College Football Works
The top teams in college football compete in what is called the Football Bowl Subdivision, or FBS. The FBS includes 124 teams, divided into 11 conferences. The nation’s oldest conference is the Big-10. The Big-10 includes some of the major college football teams, including Michigan and Penn State.
When you’re watching a game on TV, you may see the team has a number in front of their name (1 thru 25), which denotes their national rank that current week – it changes from week to week based on wins and losses.
During the course of the regular season, each team competes against the members of the same conference, playing between 8 and 10 games, and then they’ll play a few, what are known as “non-conference” games – as you can guess, those are games against teams NOT in their conference. At the end of the regular season, the top two teams in each conference based on record compete in the Conference Championship game.
At the end of all of that, we have what is called “Bowl Season” – where a team gets to travel and play in a bowl game, the final game of the year. Think of it as a reward for playing well. However, the top 4 teams at the end of the season compete in the College Playoff. The winners of the semi-final games play for the National Championship to be dubbed the best college football team for that year.
One of the biggest challenges with following, or at least sounding like you follow football are all the various colloquialisms that exist. We’ll outline a few here, but rest assured this is just a cursory list!
- Touchdown: a touchdown is the act of a player, with the football, crossing into the end zone (going one layer deeper, the end zones are the bookends on the football field that are usually painted in the school colors). This is worth 6 points.
- Extra Point: After a team scores a touchdown they get an opportunity to add an additional point, or two. A team can elect to kick the extra point, and if it goes through the goal post, it’s worth one point. Or they can elect to “go for two” where the team lines up and tries to run a play to get into the end zone, which is worth two points.
- Field Goal: at any point, a team can kick a field goal. This is worth 3 points.
- First Down: the team with the ball gets four tries to gain ten yards. If they pick up ten yards, they get a new set of four tries to get ten more yards. If they don’t get ten yards after the first three, depending on where the team is on the field, they would punt the football – another act of kicking the ball – to the other team.
- Quarterback – he’s usually the most recognizable guy on the team. He’s the Tom Brady of the team. He throws the ball and gets all the glory.
- Halftime: a game is divided into four quarters. After the first two, go grab a beer, bathroom break, and some more chips and salsa.
- Penalty (sometimes you’ll hear: there’s a flag on the field): there are hundreds of reasons why teams will be penalized. Just know that when there is a yellow flag on the field, one of the teams did something wrong.
- Heisman Trophy: the Heisman Trophy is awarded to the top college football player at the end of the year. It means you’re the best of the best of the best.
- 5-Star Recruit: high school players are evaluated by scouts on a star system – 1 star is lower tier prospects up to 5 star which are absolute studs. If your team gets 5-star recruits, it’s a good thing.
3. Top 3 College Football Teams
Every year teams are in competition to win their Conference Championship and then hopefully, get a chance to play for the National Championship. Over the years there are schools that have been dominant. Notre Dame, Florida State, Texas, University of Southern California, University of Georgia, University of Florida, and University of Miami are some schools with rich tradition. However, the top teams RIGHT now and that are possible National Championship contenders are:
- University of Alabama: Alabama is an absolute powerhouse. Their head coach, Nick Saban, is a beast who keeps recruiting the top players and keeps winning championships. It’d be hard to argue against calling them a dynasty. They won last years’ National Championship and have an incredible team again this year. They have a sophomore quarterback (see above for definition of quarterback “qb”) named Tua Tagovailoa who is just silly he’s so good.
- Clemson University: Clemson has taken the jump to powerhouse level due to their dominance over the past couple of years. Their coach not only has an awesome name (Dabo Swinney) but he’s also a heckuva coach with a talented team that could win it all this year.
- The Ohio State University: Ohio State has a proud tradition of college football dominance. Their head coach, Urban Meyer, was embroiled in a scandal late this summer, but the team has a crazy good defense and some potent offensive weapons, and are poised for another National Championship run this year.
We hope this breakdown alleviated even the slimmest amount of stress for your next college football encounter. If not, hit the books and try again next week.