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What is the longest game in college football history?

Illinois and Penn State set a new NCAA record with a nine-overtime game in 2021.

Illinois Fighting Illini quarterback Artur Sitkowski runs with the ball past Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker Jesse Luketa during the first half at Beaver Stadium.  Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Illinois Fighting Illini and Penn State Nittany Lions took part in history Saturday afternoon, although college football fans might not view this contest favorably given the way it ended.

The Illini and Nittany Lions played nine overtimes in a 20-18 win for Illinois on October 23rd, which became the longest game in NCAA history by total of overtime periods. The two squads failed to score until the eighth overtime, which involved successful conversion attempts for both teams. Penn State failed to make it back-to-back scores to begin the ninth overtime, allowing Illinois to hit the game-winning conversion on the next play.

In terms of periods played, it’s the longest game in the history of the NCAA. The previous record was Eli Manning and Ole Miss vs. Arkansas in 2001, which was a seven-OT marathon where both teams snapped it from the 25-yard line instead of the two-yard line every extra period. That was matched in 2018 by LSU and Texas A&M in an unforgettable 74-72 contest, which was the rationale for changing the college football overtime rules to just two-point conversions after the first two extra periods. Arkansas went six overtimes with Kentucky in 2003. North Texas, which had previously been in the only school not to play an overtime game, went seven overtimes with FIU in a 25-22 win. Western Michigan and Buffalo also went seven overtimes, with the Broncos winning 71-68.

Prior to Illinois-Penn State, the longest in terms of extra sessions was when Bethune-Cookman knocked off Virginia State 63-57 in eight OT’s in 1998 at the FCS (then 1-AA) level. There are two Division-II games which went six overtimes; St. Joseph’s vs. Fairmont St. and Adams St. vs. Nebraska-Kearney. St. Olaf and St. Thomas played the longest game in Division-III history, going six overtimes.