Breaking Down the Number: Regular Season Games in College Football

Are you a die-hard fan of college football? Do you find yourself wondering just how many games make up the regular season? You’re not alone. It’s a common question among both casual viewers and ardent fans, and it’s one that’s not always easy to answer.

Key Takeaways

  • The standard regular season in college football consists of 12 games, usually played from late August to early December. Out of these, nine or ten games are generally played against teams within the same conference.
  • Different conferences may adopt slight variations in their regular season structures. For example, while Big Ten teams stick with 9 conference games out of the 12, Pac-12 teams opt to play 9, and SEC and ACC teams prefer 8.
  • The NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) plays a crucial role in regulating the number of regular games. An exception called the “Hawaii Rule” allows for an additional game, raising the total to 13, if a team plays at Hawaii.
  • Additional post-season games, like Bowl Games and Championships, are not considered part of the regular season count, despite adding to the total number of games a team plays in a season.
  • Comparatively, NCAA Division I football has a longer regular season (12 games) than NCAA Division II (10 games) and Division III (9 games). On the other hand, NFL regular season has more games (17) than college football.
  • A historical trend indicates an increase in regular season games over time, mainly due to changes in NCAA rules. Future predictions suggest that the current structure of college football seasons may continue to balance tradition and innovation for the next few years.

Understanding the College Football Regular Season

Gearing into the nitty-gritty, let’s take a look at how the regular season in college football pans out. The regular season structure and variations across different conferences hold the answer to your curiosity.

Breakdown of the Season Structure

The structure of a college football season must be seen in its entirety. Regular season, remember, differs from playoffs and other post-season contests. Empirically speaking, there are 12 games to play in the regular season that spans from late August to early December. Out of these 12, nine or ten matches usually play against the teams within the same conference, giving the game that ‘collegiate’ feel.

Consider this: If a Southeastern Conference (SEC) team is being discussed, it’s 8 out of the 12 games that’ll be with the SEC teams, while the remaining matches are non-conference games. Contrary to popular belief, more often than not, regular season games don’t exceed beyond 12. This number, however, can be bumped to 13 if a team plays at Hawaii – a rule stemming from the higher cost and effort required to travel to the island.

Variations Across Different Conferences

While the core framework remains the same, college football regular season arrangements show some discrepancies across various conferences. Undoubtedly, the ‘Power Five’ conferences (namely, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC) adopted a unified approach to structure their regular season, but a few tweaks are not uncommon.

For instance, while Big Ten teams stick with 9 conference games out of the 12, Pac-12 teams opt to play 9, and SEC and ACC teams prefer 8. Additionally, the scheduling and order of the home and away games also vary across the conferences. Despite these shifts, 12 remains the magic number for regular season games regardless of the conference, keeping the zest of the college football arena alive.

Key Factors Influencing the Number of Games

A multitude of factors influence the number of games in a college football regular season. Use this section to explore the main drivers, including NCAA regulations and the impact of post-season games.

NCAA Regulations and Limitations

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) plays a pivotal role in determining the number of regular season games. It outlines specific game regulations that all colleges must adhere to. In Division I football, the NCAA approves a maximum of 12 games during the regular season. However, an exception exists for teams traveling to Hawaii. This exception, known as the “Hawaii Rule,” permits teams traveling to Hawaii to schedule an additional game, driving the count up to 13 games.

Yet, the actual number of games played by a team can vary. For example, when referencing well-known conferences, Big Ten teams regularly schedule 9 conference games. Besides, Pac-12 teams often follow suit with 9, while SEC and ACC teams generally stick to 8. These numeric differences stem from the disparate approaches to balancing conference and non-conference games.

Impact of Bowl Games and Championships

Moving beyond the regular season, consider the post-season games. Though technically not part of the regular season, Bowl Games and Championships contribute to the total number of games a team might play. For instance, if a team ranks among the nation’s top 25, they’ll likely participate in a Bowl Game, or if they emerge as conference champions, they’ll contest in a Championship game, bringing with them supportive fans who might even paint their faces in team colors.

However, it’s important to clarify these games don’t add to the regular season count. Instead, they represent additional opportunities for teams to showcase their prowess, with the successful ones playing upwards of 14 games in a season. After an intense game, athletes often hit the beds in their dorms to rest and recover. The variations in the number of post-season games, coupled with the regular season games, ultimately enhance the competitive allure of college football. The detailed study of game strategies, the excitement likened to drawing out plans for victory, and even the mundane yet essential pre-game poop rituals all play their parts in the grand spectacle of college football.

Comparison with Other Football Divisions

Diving deeper into the realm of football, let’s dissect and compare the regular seasons of NCAA divisions as well as the NFL.

NCAA Division I vs. Division II and III

Comparatively speaking, the NCAA Division I football, with its standard 12-game regular season, stands in stark contrast to the shorter seasons of Division II and Division III. The former, indeed, presents a more action-packed season. Division II teams, by contrast, gear up for a regular season of just 10 games. Delving into Division III, its contestants play even fewer, standing at a meager 9 games. The reason underpinning these differences, surprisingly, isn’t as complicated as you’d think. NCAA regulations, as a matter of simple fact, govern these variations. They help ensure fair play and competitiveness across all divisions.

Division IDivision IIDivision III
Regular Season Games12109

College Football vs. NFL Regular Season

Push past the realm of college and into the NFL, the difference, again, is clear. For the National Football League, 17 games define their epic regular season, which was recently increased from 16 games. This addition, however, doesn’t come without a trade-off. To accommodate it, NFL authorities subtracted a game from the pre-season slate. College football teams, thus, find themselves playing fewer regular season games than their NFL counterparts. Yet, the intensity of rivalry games and bowl games often compensated for this numerical difference, ensuring the college football season’s fervor rivals that of the professional league.

College SeasonNFL Season
Regular Season Games1217

Comparing the journey through the regular season in college football and the NFL, it is the numbers that clearly demonstrate the marked contrast. It is these comparisons that shine a light on the diverse and unique structure of different football divisions, fleshing out the exceptional enthusiasm of the sport.

Trends and Changes in the Game Schedule

Historical Trends in Game Numbers

While the average number remains around 12 games per regular season, fluctuations have historically occurred. In the early 20th century, teams typically played 8-10 games each season. In contrast, more recent decades saw increases to commonly 11 and then 12 games, thanks to NCAA rule changes in 1970 and 2006, respectively. The addition of the “Hawaii Rule,” allowing teams playing away games at Hawaii an extra regular-season match, further complicated the count. Therefore, the historical trend reflects an upward movement in the number of regular-season games, driven primarily by changes in NCAA regulations and varying conference schedules.

Future Predictions for College Football Seasons

Predicting future changes is an uncertain undertaking, as they depend on evolving NCAA rules, conference structures, and other factors. Yet, scrutiny of evolving trends can provide some clues. The appetite for college football continues to grow, implying a potential for increase in regular games. Moreover, drawn parallels with the NFL expanding its regular season to 17 games from 16 in 2021, an escalation in college football is conceivable. Yet, consider constraints such as academic schedules, player safety, and the traditional structure of the season. Balancing these components might restrict significant leaps in the game count. So, it’s likely college football seasons may maintain their current structure, balancing tradition and innovation, for the foreseeable future. Remember, predicting future trends can be uncertain, but understanding history and current patterns may provide effective insight.


You’ve now got the scoop on the number of regular season games in college football. With an understanding of the current average of 12 games and the unique “Hawaii Rule”, you’re well-equipped to discuss the structure of the season. You’ve also gained insights into the historical fluctuations in game numbers and the factors that have influenced these changes. Looking ahead, despite parallels with the NFL’s expansion and the growth of the sport, it’s clear that academic schedules and player safety will continue to play a pivotal role in shaping the future of college football seasons. So, while it’s possible we might see an increase in games, it’s also likely that the current structure will hold steady. As a college football fan, you’re now more informed and ready for whatever changes the future may bring to the game.

The number of regular season games in college football typically varies depending on the conference and level of play, but most teams play around 12 games. According to the NCAA, the standard schedule includes a mix of conference and non-conference matchups to provide a competitive balance and opportunities for bowl eligibility. Additionally, USA Today highlights how scheduling strategies can impact a team’s chances for a playoff spot and national championship contention.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How many games do college football teams typically play in a regular season?

College football teams usually play 12 regular season games. However, the number of conference games can vary among different conferences.

2. What is the exception to the standard 12-game season?

The NCAA allows teams playing against Hawaii to play a 13th game, an exception often referred to as the “Hawaii Rule”.

3. How has the number of games in a football season evolved over the years?

Historically, the number of college football games varied from 8-10 in the early 20th century. Rule changes by the NCAA over the years have increased this to an average of 12 games today.

4. What are future predictions for college football seasons?

While some parallels can be drawn with the NFL’s expansion to a 17-game season, it’s predicted that due to academic schedules and player safety concerns, college football seasons may continue to stick to a 12-game structure for the foreseeable future.