• Home
  • Blog
  • The Differences Between College Football and the NFL

The Differences Between College Football and the NFL

By Victoria Barnett

One of my favorite questions to ask football fans is which do they like better, college football or the NFL? It’s a common debate and for good reason. Although the two share a lot in common, they also have several distinctions in their players, coaches, fans, traditions and rules. Keep reading to learn more about the differences between college football and the NFL.


The players are what make the game. It’s always about who is the best quarterback, the best wide receiver, the best this, the best that. But that’s what makes the sport so fun. There’s no denying that the NFL has the better players. They have the cream of the crop. But college football players have so much heart, and in my opinion, they’re more fun to watch.  


There are the NFL playoffs. Plural. Then, there is the College Football Playoff. Singular. With college football, if you are a bad team, you don’t get a shot at the playoff. Not even close. On the contrary, in the NFL, you can be a 7-9 team and make the playoffs. The College Football Playoff is somewhat predictable and rather controversial, which is why many fans prefer the structure of the NFL playoffs. To each their own.


Traditions are a big part of college football. It’s not that NFL teams don’t have traditions, but they aren’t as popular and don’t really have the history that college football traditions have. Fun fact: When you Google “football traditions” the entire first page is all about college teams.

You might be familiar with your own NFL team’s traditions, but with college football, the traditions are well-known to almost all football fans. You’ve likely heard of War Eagle and Howard’s Rock or The Best Damn Band in the Land and Osceola the Seminole Indian Leader. These traditions have been passed down from generation to generation, so it only makes sense that they would be so popular.


When it comes to attendance record, college football fans have the upper hand on NFL fans. College football games are more inclined to sell out than an NFL game mostly because of the students of the universities. There’s nothing quite like the student section at a college game; from the painted chests to the beer helmets, these fans have school spirit like you’ve never seen. We can’t sell NFL fans short though – they’re some of the most dedicated fans in sports.



It’s difficult to compare coaches in college to coaches in the NFL. They are similar yet completely different at the same time. There are a lot of things to take into account when comparing the two – they might be coaching the same sport, but each is an entirely separate world with unique challenges.

As far as talent goes, you will many times hear that NFL coaches are simply better. It’s true to an extent but it also heavily depends on how you define “better.” After all, the general consensus is NFL coaches make poor college football coaches and college football coaches make poor NFL coaches.

There are plenty of legendary college coaches (i.e. Bear Bryant) who have brought tremendous success for their teams. But then you have an NFL coach like Vince Lombardi who is the best football coach in the history of the game. I think it’s unfair to try to compare the two because there are too many things to take into account. They coach in entirely different worlds, each of which with its own challenges and perks.


The basics of the game are similar in the NFL and in college, but there are a few major rules that set the two apart.  For example, receivers need only one foot in bounds for a completed pass in college football, but they need both feet in bounds in the NFL. Contact is necessary to be ruled down in the NFL but not in college. In the NFL, the clock doesn’t stop after a first down like it does in college football.

The list keeps going. All plays are subject to review in college but only scoring plays, turnovers and plays during the final two minutes are reviewable in the NFL. The defensive holding penalty in college football is 10 yards whereas it’s only 5 yards in the NFL. In college football, games cannot end in a tie – the teams must keep playing. However, NFL games can end in a tie. So many rules!


Overtime is handled differently for college football and the NFL. In college football, the team plays extra periods until there is a winner – each period consists of one possession for each team. The order is determined by coin toss and then the drive starts from the 25-yard line.

In the NFL, it’s sudden death. Play continues in 15-minute periods until a team scores (via safety, field goal or touchdown). Each team is guaranteed a possession or opportunity to possess unless the team that receives the opening kickoff scores a touchdown in its initial possession.

See the Best of the NFL at Super Bowl LI

You can attend the Super Bowl like never before. Be a part of history at Super Bowl LI! With an Official HOF Experiences ticket package, you can find your way to Houston and enjoy tickets to the game, VIP hospitality access, the opportunity to meet Pro Football Hall of Famers and much more.

Get My HOF Super Bowl LII  Ticket Package! 

Subscribe to Email Updates

Recent Posts