For the new football fan, following the game can be tricky, so let's start with the very basics.
- Each game is divided into 4 quarters of 15 minutes each, with a 20 minute break called halftime between the second and third quarter.
- Each game is played on a field 100 yards long with two 10 yard end zones (one on each side).
- 11 players from each team are allowed on the field at any given time.
- The team controlling the ball is on offense, and the one trying to stop the team in control of the ball is on defense.
- The goal of the offense is to take the ball into the end zone.
- The offense has 4 tries (downs) to move the ball a total of 10 yards. If they move the ball 10 yards in 4 tries or less, then the offense has earned a first down, and has 4 more tries to move the ball 10 more yards.
- Each down or play is started by the center snapping the football to the quarterback.
- The offense can move the ball in two ways: running and throwing.
- After three tries, if the offense has not moved the ball 10 yards, they may opt to kick the ball to the defense, rather than use their fourth try. This is a strategic move. If the offense fails to earn a first down on its fourth down, then the other team gets control of the ball at that spot on the field. By kicking the ball, the other team normally gets control of the ball 30 to 40 yards further away from the end zone.
- If the defense catches one of the offense's throws the defense has intercepted the pass. If the offense drops the ball while running, the offense has fumbled the ball, and the defense can grab the ball. In each case, the offense has lost the rest of its four downs and the offense for the other team takes control of the ball.
This should be a good start for those of you watching one of your first games this weekend. Welcome to college football!