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Ask LGHL: When exactly does the clock stop when a player goes out of bounds in college football?

You ask, we answer. Sometimes we ask, others answer. And then other times, we ask, we answer.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Ohio State Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Every day for the entirety of the Ohio State football season, we will be asking and answering questions about the team, college football, and anything else on our collective minds of varying degrees of importance. If you have a question that you would like to ask, you can tweet us @LandGrant33 or if you need more than 280 characters, send an email HERE.

We are going with a macro-level college football question today sent in by our guy Stan.


This is a good question and one that I don’t think announcers spend enough time explaining, especially in crucial circumstances. They are almost contractually obligated to use the term “indisputable video evidence” every time that there is a review, but they can’t take five seconds to remind viewers about the clock mechanics on an out-of-bounds play?

So, since Chris Fowler, Brad Nessler, and Gus Johnson won’t explain it to you, Land-Grant Holy Land will just have to pick up their slack.

As you might remember, for fans of a certain age, when we were growing up, a player running out of bounds prior to their forward progress being stopped automatically led to a stoppage of the game clock until the ball was next snapped. However, in 2008, that rule changed in an effort to speed up the game.

So, the clock still stops when the play is whistled dead for going out of bounds, but for 56 of the game’s 60 regulation minutes, it will begin again when the ball is marked ready for play by the officials.

The difference in those other four minutes comes because of Rule 3, Section 3, Article 2, subsection e, line 3 of the 2022 NCAA Football Rule Book:

Starts on the Referee’s Signal. For each of the following reasons, the game clock is stopped on an official’s signal. If the next play begins with a snap, the game clock will start on the referee’s signal:

3. Other than with fewer than two minutes remaining in a half, a Team A ball carrier, fumble or backward pass is ruled out of bounds.

This means that if a play is whistled dead because the offensive player carries the ball out of bounds before forward progress had been stopped — or a fumble or backward pass goes out of bounds — the clock will start on the ready-for-play signal, except for in the last two minutes of either half.

This is designed to allow offensive teams to have a legitimate chance at a two-minute drill without having to have their full complement of timeouts. However, if a team has to go 80+ yards with four minutes left in a half, they will need to hustle back to the line after every play — even if they go out of bounds — until they get past the two minutes mark.

Until that point, it is essentially the same as if the offense gets a first down. If a receiver catches a ball over the middle beyond the first down marker, the clock is stopped so that the crew has enough time to move the chains, and then is restarted on the official’s signal. Until the game gets under two minutes, going out of bounds works the exact same way.

This rule is similar to that of the NFL, but does not give the offensive team as much leeway to stop the clock in college.

NFL Rule 4, Section 3, Article 2, subsection a, lines 2-3 reads:

Whenever a runner goes out of bounds on a play from scrimmage, the game clock is started when an official spots the ball at the inbounds spot, and the Referee gives the signal to start the game clock, except that the clock will start on the snap:

2. after the two-minute warning of the first half; or

3. inside the last five minutes of the second half.

So, in the first half, the college and NFL rules are the same (except for the fact that there is no official two-minute warning in college), but the clock remaining stopped until the snap starts at the five-minute mark in the second half for the pros, while it is still at two minutes for the college kids.

For those of us whose formative football years were pre-2008, the old rule is one that is so ingrained into how we watch the sport, that it can take a while to change the way think about the game, even after nearly a decade and a half.

To wrap it up:

  • If you go out of bounds, the clock always stops so that officials can respot the ball.
  • Until there are two minutes in either half, the game clock restarts on the official’s ready-for-play signal.
  • With under two minutes in either half, the game clock remains stopped until the snap.