How Many Players are on a College Football Team?

College football teams have become synonymous with school pride, tradition, and the relentless pursuit of excellence. Although many fans know their favorite teams inside and out, one question often arises: how many players are on a college football team? With various positions and constantly changing rosters, it can be difficult to pinpoint an exact number.

Unlike the NFL, which enforces a strict 53-player roster limit, the NCAA does not impose a universal hard cap on the number of players that can be on a college football team. However, there are certain regulations that apply to different schools and divisions. Knowing these regulations and the reasoning behind them can provide greater insight into the fascinating world of college athletics.

Overview of College Football Team Structure

College football teams consist of a diverse range of players, each specializing in specific positions. Within the team, the coaching staff strategically places these players to achieve the best possible outcome on the field. This section will discuss the basic elements of a college football team’s structure and provide insights into the essential positions.

Essential Positions

There are three main groups of positions in college football: offense, defense, and special teams. Each group has its own set of key positions that play a critical role in the team’s success.


  • Quarterback (QB): The leader of the offensive unit who calls the plays and typically passes or hands off the ball to other players.
  • Running Back (RB): A player who primarily runs with the ball and tries to advance it down the field.
  • Wide Receiver (WR): A player who specializes in catching passes thrown by the quarterback.
  • Offensive Line (OL): A group of players responsible for blocking and protecting the quarterback and running backs.


  • Defensive Line (DL): A group of players responsible for stopping the opposing team’s running plays and putting pressure on the quarterback.
  • Linebacker (LB): A player who excels in tackling and defending against both running and passing plays.
  • Defensive Back (DB): Players who specialize in defending against pass plays and help cover wide receivers on the opposing team.

Special Teams:

  • Kicker (K): A player who specializes in kicking field goals and executing kickoffs.
  • Punter (P): A specialist who punts the ball to the opposing team, usually on fourth down when the offense is not in field goal range.
  • Returner (R): A player responsible for catching and returning kickoffs and punts.

In addition to these primary positions, college football teams often include additional specialized roles, such as backup quarterbacks, rotational running backs, and situational pass rushers. The combination of these players and the number of players allowed on a college football team ensures that coaches have the flexibility to make strategic adjustments and substitutions during the course of a game.

Number of Players on a College Football Team

College football teams can vary in size due to a variety of factors. However, there are some basic rules that dictate the number of players allowed on a team. According to the 25/65 rule, NCAA Division 1 schools are allowed to have up to 85 scholarship players and can recruit 25 new players per season. This results in an average of about 118 players on a team.

While the 85 scholarships serve as a cap for NCAA Division 1 programs, other divisions may have different rules and restrictions on the number of players allowed on a team. For instance, NCAA Division II and III schools have smaller rosters, and in some cases, these lower divisions may not offer athletic scholarships at all. Additionally, smaller schools or conferences may have more relaxed roster size requirements, allowing for more variation in team sizes overall.

It is essential for college football teams to maintain a balance of experienced players and fresh talent each year. With the constant influx of new recruits and athletes graduating or leaving for the NFL, team rosters are in constant fluctuation. The coaching staff ensures a strategic approach to recruiting, retaining, and developing their players to build a competitive and cohesive team on the field.

In summary, the number of players on a college football team typically averages around 118, with NCAA Division 1 schools adhering to the 85-scholarship limit and the 25/65 rule. The size of a team’s roster may vary depending on the college’s division, conference, or specific regulations, but its composition remains dynamic to stay competitive within the ever-evolving landscape of college football.

Role and Importance of Each Player

The success of a college football team greatly depends on the role and importance of each player. A team typically consists of a diverse group of athletes, with specific skill sets, to ensure the best possible performance on the field. NCAA Division I FBS allows a maximum of 85 scholarship players, while Division I-AA has a cap of 64 and Division II has 36 scholarship players per school. Coaches must carefully allocate these scholarships to recruit the ideal players for various positions.


The offensive players are responsible for advancing the ball down the field and scoring. Core positions include:

  • Quarterback: The team’s play-caller and leader, responsible for accurately passing the ball or handing it off to a teammate.
  • Running Back: Tasked with carrying the ball on running plays and sometimes receiving passes from the quarterback.
  • Wide Receiver: Specialized in catching passes thrown by the quarterback and gaining as much yardage as possible.
  • Offensive Line: Comprising of Tackles, Guards, and the Center, responsible for protecting the quarterback and creating paths for running backs.


Defensive players aim to stop the opposing team from advancing the ball and scoring. Key positions include:

  • Defensive Line: Composed of Defensive Ends and Defensive Tackles, their job is to prevent the opposing team’s running game and pressure the quarterback.
  • Linebackers: Positioned behind the defensive line, they focus on stopping the run, rushing the quarterback, or covering the pass.
  • Defensive Backs: Consisting of Cornerbacks and Safeties, they primarily defend against the pass and aim to intercept the ball.

Special Teams

These players are crucial during kicking plays, such as kickoffs, punts, field goals, and extra-point attempts. Notable positions:

  • Kicker: Responsible for kicking the ball during kickoffs and attempting field goals or extra point conversions.
  • Punter: Handles punting, which is kicking the ball to the opposing team after the offense failed to gain a first down.
  • Long Snapper: Specializes in delivering accurate snaps during kicking plays to the holder or punter.

In addition to these essential roles, every college football player must demonstrate a strong work ethic, effective communication, and consistent improvement. Understanding the responsibilities of each position helps create synergy within the team and ultimately leads to success on the field.

Exceptions and Variations in Team Size

Smaller Colleges and Universities

At smaller colleges and universities, the number of players on a college football team may vary from the standard limits seen at larger institutions. While the NCAA has rules in place during the offseason, limiting teams to a maximum of 105 players, these smaller schools may have roster sizes below this number, depending on factors such as budget constraints, recruiting challenges, or other logistical reasons. It is essential to recognize that these smaller institutions may still field competitive teams, even with a reduced roster size.

Larger Universities

At larger universities, the number of players on a college football team typically adheres to the NCAA rules, with up to 25 new players recruited each year and a maximum of 85 players on scholarship, known as the 25/85 rule. However, there may be exceptions or variations in the team size due to factors such as injuries, transfers, or eligibility changes. In some cases, the NCAA may grant additional roster spots to accommodate returning seniors or other special circumstances.

Overall, the number of players on college football teams can vary based on the size and resources of the institution. It is important to remember that each school may have different approaches to managing their rosters, and the size of the team may change from year to year.

Common Misconceptions about Team Sizes

One common misconception regarding college football team sizes is that they have a fixed number of players that are uniform across all divisions. In reality, the number of players on a college football team can vary greatly depending on the division and the school’s resources. The NCAA Division I FBS allows a maximum of 85 scholarship players, whereas Division I-AA caps at 64 and Division II at 36 scholarship players per school. It is essential to note that these numbers refer to scholarship players, and teams can have additional non-scholarship players, popularly known as walk-ons.

Another misconception is that all college football teams maintain consistent staff sizes. The staff sizes can significantly differ from one school to another. For example, Notre Dame has 44 staff members, while other top schools like Texas, Georgia, Auburn, and Michigan have staff sizes ranging from 40 to 44. The variation in staff size showcases the inconsistencies among different college football programs.

Lastly, some people may believe that college football teams are smaller in size than NFL teams. However, this is not the case. On average, college football teams have at least twice as many players as NFL teams. This difference in size can be attributed to various reasons, including the need for more depth due to injuries, development of younger players, and larger recruiting opportunities.

In summary, misconceptions surrounding college football team sizes can give a false understanding of how teams are structured. It is crucial to recognize that team sizes, staff sizes, and the number of players can vary greatly depending on multiple factors, such as the division of play and the resources of individual schools.