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Turning Point: Celebrating 25 Years of Overtime


The top of Division I finally followed the lead of the Division I-AA, II and III in 1995, incorporating overtime into its bowl season. In the years that followed, we’ve witnessed plenty of reasons why OT should have been part of the big stage much sooner. 

By: Craig Haley

Fourth-ranked Notre Dame’s thrilling 47-40 double-overtime win over No. 1 Clemson on Saturday wouldn’t have been possible 25 years ago.

Now, it’s hard to imagine college football without OT.

Fittingly, the first regular-season overtime game in 1996 that involved an FBS school, Oklahoma State, also included an FCS opponent, Missouri State, then known as Southwest Missouri State. The FCS – the lower half of Division I – plus Division II and III had been unlocking games that were tied after four quarters long before the FBS jumped on the OT bandwagon.

Irish RB Kyren Williams runs against the Tigers in Saturday’s double-overtime victory in South Bend.

Overtime was necessary for tied playoff games, and FCS conferences (playing in what was known as Division I-AA at the time) such as the Big Sky, CAA (then called the Yankee Conference), MEAC and Ohio Valley used it in regular-season conference games.

Oklahoma State’s 23-20 overtime win over Southwest Missouri State on Aug. 31, 1996, was the first in the FBS regular season, but the NCAA allowed for the extra session during the previous bowl season, and Toledo edged Nevada 40-37 in the 1995 Las Vegas Bowl.

The FBS’s addition of OT helped take the popularity of the system to a higher level. Long gone are the days of “Harvard Beats Yale 29-29” in 1968 or Illinois and Wisconsin playing to a 3-3 score on Nov. 25, 1995 – the final tie on the FBS level.

The procedure to break tied football games dates to the California Interscholastic Federation developing a tiebreaker system in 1968, but the college overtime system, which is based around each team getting one possession from its opponent’s 25-yard line per OT period and continuing until the tie is broken, was developed out of the Kansas High School Activities Association, which instituted OT in 1971. Where a possession began wasn’t universal when it arrived in college football, with some attempts beginning from the 10- or 15-yard line.

Nevada head coach Chris Ault

Buena Vista’s 20-14 win over Carroll (Wisc.) in the 1976 Division III playoffs was the first NCAA game with overtime. In Division I-AA, Eastern Kentucky beat Nevada 33-30 in a 1979 playoff semifinal.

“I was a big proponent of the overtime games,” College Football Hall of Famer Chris Ault, who coached Nevada in the school’s 1979 playoff loss, said in a Big Sky Conference article. “We were the only sport that would work our rears off and end up in something like kissing your sister.

“The major guys (in Division I) didn’t start it the same time. We were like the guinea pigs to see if it would work, and it did. I only had one tie my entire career. It settled nothing. It says nothing. I feel like when you play a game, you win or you lose.”

Regular-season overtime was adopted for Division I-AA, II and III in 1981. The Big Sky was the first on board in I-AA: On Nov. 21, 1981, Idaho State beat Weber State 33-30 in three OTs to secure the conference championship, and the Bengals never stopped winning that season, capturing the national title.

The Yankee Conference added overtime in 1982, and the first game that needed it, really needed it. Rhode Island outlasted Maine 58-55 in six OTs on Sept. 18, 1982.

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart holds the trophy after his team beat Oklahoma 54-48 in overtime in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 2018.

Other conferences followed. The first overtime game in the OVC was Oct. 13, 1984, when Youngstown State defeated Austin Peay 17-13. The MEAC added OT in 1990, and it first occurred on Sept. 22 with Howard edging South Carolina State 23-20.

With the FBS finally implementing a four-team playoff for the 2014-15 season, overtime took center stage during what turned out to be an unforgettable 2017-18 postseason.

On Jan. 1, 2018, Georgia defeated Oklahoma 54-48 in double overtime in the Rose Bowl to advance to the national championship game, where the Bulldogs fell 26-23 to Alabama – in OT.

This season, overtime has already had a major impact on the playoff chase. The Irish’s dramatic double-OT win Saturday snapped several streaks for the Tigers, including 36-straight regular season wins, 28-straight ACC wins and 14 consecutive road victories.


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