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A guide for visiting college football fans

I'm coming to you this weekend – at least for part of the weekend – from deep in the heart of Tennessee Titans territory. As I look around, I see hills and trees. I see a bunch of state government buildings including the state capitol. I also see a river and a large football stadium next to an Interstate highway.

I see a bustling music scene and a bunch of college students hanging out in some of the local watering holes. I also see something weird. It's a person in nothing but a thong and high heels walking down the street with a local television crew following him...or her.

You guessed it. I'm in Austin.

But if you've ever been to Nashville, you may have thought for a minute I was there considering the similarities between the two burgs – similarities that include rooting interest in a certain football team, or at least one player on that team.

I wonder what would happen if that player became a free agent in a few years and went to Buffalo…but I digress.

Where the similarities seem to diverge is that in Nashville proper, you find that most football passions are directed toward the NFL first and SEC second, whereas in Austin it's all about the Big 12 and 40 acres of land around San Jacinto and 21st.

You couldn't help but notice some of these NFL neo-fans attending the Titans–Texans game at Reliant Stadium last year. There were so many college jerseys in the stands, I halfway expected Kansas State or Oklahoma to run out of the tunnel.

A good share of these strangers was well-behaved. Many were obnoxious. Others seemed confused by this NFL thing. I talked to some and was surprised to learn that for many it was their first professional game to attend – other than the Rose Bowl nine months earlier.

And that's where I thought I could help out some of our guests this year. So if your passion is watching football on Saturdays, listen up.

With all credit to Tad Wesley at, I present to you a guide that explains some of the major differences between the rules of college and professional football:

  • The first major rule difference is noticeable as soon as you look at a college field and then a pro field. The hash marks on the pro field are much narrower than those on a college field. This means that the pros tend to start each play pretty much in the middle of the field, and the hash marks don't tend to come into consideration much in terms of play-calling.
 In college, however, the wide hash marks have a few notable implications. One is that sweeps to the short side of the field run out of space really quickly, so coaches will often run to the wide side. The time when it seems to matter most, however, is in the kicking game. In the college ranks, the wide hashes often mean that short field goals can be much more difficult than they would be otherwise due to the sharp angle the kicker has to negotiate. In the pros, if you can kick the ball far and straight, you're probably going to make most of your attempts, but in college, a 20-yard field goal from the far left hash (or right if the kicker is left footed) can be a pretty imposing attempt, because the sharp angle reduces the apparent "open" area of the uprights.  
  • Another major difference between college and the pros is related to clock management. In the college game, the clock stops whenever a first down is made in order to allow the measurement crews time to reset their chains, whereas this action in the pros occurs with the clock running (unless the clock is stopped by some other game mechanic, such as going out of bounds). This, of course, gives the trailing team in college a chance of making a comeback, since they can essentially get free timeouts as long as they keep the ball moving.
  • The third major rules difference also relates to going out of bounds, but is related to what constitutes a legal pass reception. In the college ranks, you need to have control of the ball and get one foot down fully in-bounds to make a legal catch. In the pros, both feet are required. You will often see many of the better college receivers try to get both feet in, however, to show any pro scouts that might be watching that they have the awareness to try to get both down. Essentially, this serves to widen the playing field a little bit in terms of the passing game.
  • Perhaps the most important difference between the two venues is that in college, if you have a knee down with the ball, the play is over, no matter what. In the NFL, you have to be forced down. In other words, if you are a running back making a cut up the field, and slip and fall (without being touched), in the NFL you can get up and keep running. The play is still live until someone touches while down. In the college game, the play is over. There are other differences such as two-minute warnings in the pros but not in college and differences in how pass interference penalties are assessed, and no marching bands at halftime (or cowbells allowed in the stands), and stripes on the NCAA ball but most of those things are not as obvious or significant.

Hope that helps and we'll see you at the game.

You can contact Alan Burge at:


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