. College Football 101 for the football fan and traveler : Budget Travel Adventures

College Football 101 for the football fan and traveler

Rutgers birthplace of college footballLate in the 4th quarter in a tense game. All night long, the game has been back and forth between two college football powerhouses. LSU coach Les Miles is known as the Mad Hatter for his crazy, gutsy calls late in games. This game was no different.

With 9 minutes left in the 4th quarter, LSU faces a 4th and 1 down 21-17 to Alabama. Miles calls a play, LSU converts, scores a touchdown, and wins the game 24-21. Miles celebrates the big call by grabbing some grass from the ground and eating it.

Welcome to college football!!

The College Football Travel Tour kicks off this weekend in Ireland as Notre Dame takes on Navy.  And it’s the crazy things that go on in college football, like one of the top college football coaches in the country eating grass during a big game, that make college football one of the most exciting sports to cover.

Follow along on the 2012 College Football Travel Tour with Expedia!

College football stadiums, fans, campuses, and towns offer some of the most interesting cultural experiences in the country.  Yet you can only experience this for 13 Saturdays each year.  This is why travel is such a big part of this series because it shares takes you to these places and makes you a part of these unique game day experiences.  Without a doubt, sports and travel have a connection.

College Football 101

If you don’t know anything about college football, consider this your introduction – this is College Football 101.  You don’t need to love the game as I do to enjoy this travel series.  However, this gives you some basics about the game before the College Football Travel Tour hits the road.

Share your ideas for the College Football Travel Tour in the poll below!

College Football Season – College football games are played every Saturday from the end of August until early December.  Teams from various conferences play games to determine conference champions and national title contenders.  After a a three week break in December, college football bowl games take place at stadiums all over the country.  Bowl games start a few days before Christmas and culminate with the best bowls and national championship game in early January.

College football conferences – College football consists of 4 different classes of football based on size and football programs of the schools – Division III, Division II, FCS (Football Championship Series, formerly known as Division 1-AA), and FBS (Football Bowl Division Series, formerly known as Division 1-A).

The FBS is where big-time college football is played.  It consists of 6 conferences making up the BCS (Bowl Championship Series) which receives automatic bids to BCS bowl games (Fiesta, Orange, Rose, Sugar, and National Title games).  The current BCS conferences are the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big Ten, Big 12, Big East, Pacific 12 (Pac 12), and Southeastern Conference (SEC).

Other FBS conferences are eligible for bowl games and can get into BCS games if they meet certain criteria.  These include Conference USA, the Mountain West Conference (MWC), Mid-American Conference (MAC), Sun Belt, and Western Athletic Conference (WAC).  There are also a handful of teams that are independents and do not belong to any conference.

Army Navy college football game

Army vs Navy

The teams – There are 120 FBS teams in college football.  The schools are spread out all over the country from Hawaii to Florida to New York and everywhere in between.  The schools include small public schools as well as large private schools and many other public and private schools as well.

The stadiums – College football games are played in various stadiums throughout the country.  They range from small stadiums on campus to big stadiums off campus.  Some play in domed stadiums on turf fields while others play outside on grass fields.  The smallest FBS stadium is in Idaho and holds just over 16,000.  The largest stadium is Michigan with nearly 110,000 seats.  Each stadium has its own personality, quirks, and traditions.

The field – The playing field is 100 yards long from one goal line to another.  Each end zone is 10 yards long making the total field length 120 yards.  The width of each field is 53 1/3 yards.  Goal posts are at the back of each end zone (so each goal post is 120 yards in distance from the other) and are 10 feet high and 18 feet 6 inches wide.

The game – Each game is four quarters and lasts 15 minutes.  There is a break of 20 minutes between the 2nd and 3rd quarters called halftime.  If two teams are tied at the end of each game, they enter an overtime period with each team getting the ball at the opposing teams 25 yard line.  Each team get a possession and the team with the most points at the end of overtime wins.  Overtime periods continue until a team wins.  Beginning in the third overtime, any team that scores a touchdown must go for two points.

Scoring – A touchdown is worth 6 points with a conversion attempt to follow.  Teams can kick the ball through the goal posts with the ball placed at the 2 yard line for 1 point or attempt to score 2 points by running a play to get the ball in the end zone.  During possession, teams may also kick a field goal in which the ball is snapped and a kicker attempts to kick it through the goal posts for 3 points.  If a team is tackled in their own end zone (as opposed to scoring a touchdown in the other teams’ end zone for a touchdown), the opposing team gets 2 points (known as a safety).

Cal Bears beat Oregon Ducks college football fans

Cal beats Oregon

How to play – Each team gets possession of the ball to start each half.  A coin flip determines who gets the ball first and the opposing team kicks the ball from the 30 yard line for the other team to start their possession.  If the ball is not returned for a touchdown, the team begins possession where the player returning the ball is tackled.

Each team is given 4 downs to move the ball 10 yards for a first down.  If a first down is achieved, the team keep possession of the ball for another 4 downs.  The team keeps moving the ball down the field until they 1) score a touchdown 2) kick a field goal 3) punt the ball to the other team (generally on 4th down if they don’t get their 10 yards for a first down 4) turn the ball over to the other team by fumbling (ball leaves the possession of a player who is carrying it before he tackles and the other team recovers) or interception (a player throws a pass that is caught by the opposing team).

Each team trades possessions by scoring, punting, or turning it over.  At the end of the game, the team with the most points wins.

Players – Each team consists of three different units – offense, defense, and special teams.  On offense, offensive lineman provide protection for the running backs and quarterback.  The quarterback takes the ball from the center and decides to run, throw, or give the ball to another player.  The running back runs, blocks, or catches the ball while wide receivers and tight ends block and try to catch the ball when it is thrown.

The defense consists of lineman, linebackers, and defensive backs which try to tackle the offensive guys with the ball.  Their duties vary as they can rush the quarterback, tackle guys running and catching the ball, or try to knock away the ball or intercept passes.

Special teams consists of blockers, tacklers (some refer to them as gunners but anyone can tackle), and kickers.  The most integral part of special teams is the kicker who either kicks off (after a score), punts, or kicks a field goal.

Rankings, championships, bowl games, and the BCS – Most teams in FBS belong to a conference with many of these conferences separating teams in divisions.  As teams in each conference play each other during the season, the team with the best conference record at the end of the season wins the conference title (if there is no conference title game or divisions in the conference) or the two teams with the best conferences records in their division face off in a conference championship game to determine the conference champion.

During each week of the season, writers, coaches, and computers vote on teams they think are the best based on the way each team has performed for every week of the season.  The results of each of these polls determine the Top 25 football team rankings for each week.  A system comprised of polls, computers, and formulas ranks each team for the BCS system.  At the end of the season, the top 2 teams in the BCS rankings play for the national title in January.

The rest of the teams are selected for the other BCS bowl games based on performance and championships during the season.  After the BCS teams are selected, the remaining college football bowl games select teams based on season performance and conference affiliation for bowls to be played in December and January.

LSU college football national champion

LSU national champions

College football awards – At the end of each season, awards are given out to players all over the country for being the best players at their position.  Some of these awards include  the Davey O’Brien award (best quarterback), Doak Walker Award (best running back), Jim Thorpe Award (best defensive back), Outland trophy (best interior lineman), and others.

The most coveted and prestigious award is the Heisman trophy which goes to the best college football player in the country as voted on by selected writers and media and past Heisman Trophy winners.  The winner each year tends to be a quarterback or running back although wide receivers, defensive backs, and all around performers have won the award as well.

College football personalities – From head coaches to players to announcers and analysts, college football has its share of people in the spotlight.  There are coaches like Les Miles, Nick Saban, and Steve Spurrier known for their coaching abilities, styles of coaching, and personalities.  There are the ESPN Gameday people like Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso and Erin Andrews who travel to college football games every week.

There are the studio analysts like Rece Davis, Lou Holtz, and Mark May.  There are various radio hosts, play by play announcers, Athletic Directors, writers, TV personalities, players, and more which all give us quotes, stories, and information about happenings in the game.  The people, personalities, and stories are as much a part of the game as the game itself.

Texas A&M 12th man

Texas A&M - Home of the 12th man

College Football traditions – Dotting the “i”, home of the 12th man, live animals on the field, grand entrances, tailgating traditions, war dances, blue fields, throwing a flaming spear on a field, cowbells, classical music entrance themes, Metallica entrance themes, Touchdown Jesus, cocktail parties – these are just a few of the many unique traditions that make college football so fun, interesting, and enjoyable.

College Football fans – One of the best reasons to follow college football is the relationship of the game with its fans.  Many sports all over the world have fans that cheer on their team.  However, college football fans invest their time, money, and lives into many of these schools.

Many went to school and got their degrees from these colleges and universities.  Others have gone to games ever since they were kids creating some memories with family and friends that are etched upon their hearts and minds forever.  For many people, this just isn’t a team to cheer but a part of their lives and culture.  It is a part of who they are as a person.

Getting to know college football fans is a study in sociology and one of the greatest cultural experiences you can have in this country.

Tailgating traditions – From “The Grove” to trains to lakes, there are some amazing places to enjoy food and beverages before and after a game.  For many people. tailgating is more important than the game itself as many fans dress up, park in their RVs and and watch games on big screen TVs, and bring enough food to feed a village.

College Football campuses and towns – Some of the most beautiful scenery in the country are on the campuses of colleges and universities.  With trees, mountains, lakes, and buildings serving as the backdrop for these institutions of higher learning, visiting these campuses and college towns can be a highlight of any college football game.

College Football 101 for the College Football Travel Tour

A college football game isn’t just a sporting event.  It is about meeting new people, experiencing other cultures, visiting new places, seeing monuments of the past, learning about history, and everything people love about travel.

College Football 101 is your introduction to the 2012 College Football Travel Tour with Expedia.  Now that you understand the game, join me in my travels as I experience all that college football and college towns have to offer.

Photos: Rutgers (Flickr), Army Navy (Flickr), Cal Oregon (Flickr), LSU (Flickr), 12th man (Flickr)

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  1. Nice article. We’re doing something similar in that we’re trying to see every Major League Baseball stadium. Our college football is limited mainly to local D3 teams.

    Have fun on the tour!

    • Baseball is one of my first loves. I have seen more baseball stadiums than football. As a kid, I grew up playing baseball and had a chance to play in college. Every year, I would watch nearly every game the Atlanta Braves played. I still love baseball and for years baseball and college football were my two favorite sports. Now I would put baseball third.

      Where have you gone so far on your MLB tour? I’ve been to Wrigley, Turner Field and Fulton County, Old Veterans Stadium in Philly, Oakland Coliseum, AT&T Park in San Fran, Edison Field Anaheim. I’ve also visited but not been to game at Minute Maid (Houston), Arlington (Texas), and Petco (San Diego).

  2. Michael says:

    Let the games begin!

  3. Andrea says:

    This is great – expecially for people like me who know nothing about American football (yes I am an American, but my Aussie husband knows more about US sports than I do). Would you believe I went to the University of Miami when they were at the top and never went to a single game? That said, I always loved the atmosphere of tailgating parties and the like and I think it’s great that you’ll be covering some great university towns, which always have an awesome vibe.

    • Thanks Andrea! I can’t believe you went to The U and didn’t attend a football game! When I was at South Carolina, I didn’t miss a home game! However, I realize there are a lot of people, like yourself, who don’t know much about college football. So I wanted to give people some information on college football to prepare them for the series. I will have some photos and videos as I do each of these games so I hope this helps as well.

      For European and Australian friends, I think they can relate the passion of college football to football/soccer and rugby. However, this series is about much more than football and sports so I hope everyone can find something they like about this!

  4. i just watched my first full game of american football last weekend. stanford and usc. triple overtime. i was a shattered man by the end of it. next step, live game!

    • That was a great game to watch! Stanford is one of the best teams in the country and the Trojans took the game down to the wire. I love close to Stanford and almost went to a game a couple of weeks ago.

      Any plans to watch more games this year?

  5. I spent 4 years in HS Marching Band, at EVERY Football game and never learned, lol!

    • Ben, I did marching band for one year (I was a saxophone player). I love sports but I understand all that stuff that goes on during a football game for the band. I completely understand!

  6. Enjoyed learning here!! I once read a book of a guy who decided to go to every match of his team AC Verona (Italy)one year and it was fabulous – as you say just as much about meeting people and having experiences along the way.

    • John, I have to say that my second favorite sport is football. In my experience, seems that soccer and college football have a lot in common when it comes to the passion and dedication of the fans. For soccer, the team is about their town, culture, and who they are. The same is true for many people about their schools and where they grew up.

      I will definitely have more to share on this but I realized this weekend how much this event is about the stories and the people and not just the football.

  7. robin says:

    Looking forward to an education here!

  8. You have put so much thought and effort into this. I look forward to seeing the results.

    • Thanks Stephanie. I know a lot of people don’t know much about college football so I wanted to give people an overview. This series is about so much more than football but hope it helps people who don’t know anything about the game enjoy this a little more!

  9. Chris says:

    I liked your site my friend. I did not know that you were in California now. Still remember the good ole Myrtle Waves days.

  10. I love that you’ve found your niche, Jeremy. Travel and college football together on one blog! :)

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