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Difference between NFL and College Football

The NFL and college football leagues are a lot similar, but at the same time massively different. Notably, the differences are in playing conditions, number of teams, scoring, and halftime. Undoubtedly, the NFL is one of the biggest leagues in the world, with fans globally.. However, college football is more popular and bigger than the NFL in some states.

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College football is an amateur league, probably the second-best league and the only league after the NFL. Interestingly, college football is older than the NFL and the first college game was played between Rutgers and New Jersey in 1869, decades before the first NFL match.

What are the major differences between the two leagues?


Alright, the first major difference is the status. Players in the NFL are called professionals, while those playing college football are called amateurs. This is because college football is played by the students and this ensures that athletes are not paid more than their college expenses. The maximum these athletes receive covers their college fees, traveling, and living costs. On the other hand, NFL players are professionals and are compensated heavily, probably one of the highest-paying jobs in the U.S.


On display, both football leagues seem alike, but that is not the case. Certain rules set both leagues apart. 

  • There’s no tie in a college match, while NFL matches can end in a tie unless it’s a playoff game.
  • For a rule down in the NFL, contact is necessary, but it’s not a requirement in college football.
  • In college football, a completed pass requires only one foot down, while in the NFL, it’s a requirement to have both feet down.
  • The clock stops in college football after the first down but not in NFL, it continues.
  • In college football, the defensive holding penalty is 10 yards and in the NFL, it’s five yards.
  • In college football, all plays can be reviewed. In the NFL, only scoring plays, turnovers, and plays in the last two minutes can be reviewed.


Understandably, college football has a lot more teams than in the NFL. Also, college football is considered a stepping stone to getting into the NFL. Hence, there are 130 teams from universities, colleges, and academies divided into 10 conferences. While in the NFL, there are 32 teams split into eight divisions. Therefore, it’s easier to predict the winners and calculate NFL odds.

Jersey numbers

This one is interesting. In the NFL, the jersey numbers represent the playing position. For example, players wearing teens and 80s mean they are wide receivers, and those in 20s, 30s, or 40s tell you that they are running backs. It helps viewers to see what’s happening and coaches to strategize spontaneously. While in college, jersey numbers are random numbers.

Playoff matches

In college football, there’s only one playoff match, while in the NFL there are multiple. Being a professional league, NFL allows smaller teams a shot at the championship by winning their divisions. College football favors only the best team and if there’s any underperforming college team, then the chances of winning the title are bleak.

Overtime rule

The overtime rule is a major difference between the two leagues. In the NFL, there’s a coin toss and a sudden death quarter. So, the coin toss is highly important as winning the toss gives the team a chance for the first score, and the first team to score wins. If no team scores, then it’s declared as a tie unless it’s a playoff match. Whereas in college football, each team gets the possession from their counterpart team’s 25-yard line, and the team in a lead after both possessions wins.


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