Can You Fumble The Ball Forward In College Football?

College football is known for high scoring, competitiveness, and crazy plays. But many people ask about the rules and whether you can fumble forward. 

A player can fumble the ball forward in college football, but it must be a legal fumble, not an illegal forward pass, and it must occur on first, second, or third down. If the ball is fumbled forward on fourth down or out of bounds, it returns to the original spot unless the defense recovers. 

The fumble rules in college football are similar to what the NFL enforces, and both leagues have adjusted rules through the years simultaneously. This is especially true for the fumbling forward dilemma which has occurred in the past. We will explain the rules on this and how exactly it works below. 

Can You Fumble The Ball Forward In College Football?

Can You Fumble The Ball Forward In College Football?

In college football, a player can fumble the ball forward in many parts of the game, but the rule is more complicated. If the ball is fumbled forward on 4th down, the only player who can recover and advance the ball is the initial ball carrier. 

This rule exists to avoid players purposely fumbling the ball forward in an attempt to get the first down. This is not allowed, and the ball cannot be fumbled forward on 4th downs in college football. 

It’s also not allowed to fumble the ball forward on a two-point conversion. If the ball gets fumbled forward and goes out of bounds, it will be returned to the original spot where it occurred to avoid players fumbling on purpose to try and gain extra yards. 

However, it’s allowed at any other part of the game. If a runner loses the ball and the ball rolls forward, it’s considered a fumble, and both teams can recover the ball and advance it. 

If the offense were to recover a forward fumble, it would be placed where the recovering player is ruled down. The same is true if the defense were to recover the fumble. 

The player also must fumble the ball. A ball carrier cannot throw the ball forward past the line of scrimmage, assuming it would be ruled as a fumble. Instead, this would be a penalty and cost the team some yards. 

Can You Fumble The Ball Forward In College Football?

How Does A Player Fumble The Ball Forward In College Football?

Football is a violent game with a lot of unpredictability. Offensive players are being chased by their opponents who solely want to make a tackle, meaning anything can happen on most plays. 

If a ball carrier fumbles forward, it’s typically not on purpose, but the way the ball was knocked loose happened to cause the ball to move forward instead. 

It’s also possible when players dive forward for extra yardage to get first downs and touchdowns. The ball can slip out of the player’s hand forward, but it’s still considered a fumble. 

The same is true when a quarterback drops back for a pass. Sometimes, they are hit before they can throw the ball, and it will leave their hands moving forward. 

However, it would be ruled as a fumble if they did not make the full throwing motion. It may seem unorthodox, but players often fumble the ball forward during college football games. 

What Happens If You Fumble Forward Out Of Bounds In College Football?

This is another rule implemented by the NCAA to avoid sloppy plays where ball carriers fumble intentionally to steal extra yards. Players would fumble forward, knowing the ball would roll out of bounds, and they would gain a few more yards. 

However, the NCAA stopped this by creating a new rule. Now, if the ball is fumbled forward and goes out of bounds, it returns to where it was fumbled. The ball remains with the offense when it rolls out of bounds because no new possession was established. 

Doing this means fewer fumbles when players get close to first downs near the sidelines. It keeps the game organized, and offenses are forced to earn these yards instead. 

However, if the ball is fumbled backward out of bounds, this same rule does not apply. Instead, the offense would get the ball where the ball went out, which likely results in a loss of yards. 

Can A Player Intentionally Fumble Forward In College Football?

Technically, a player can intentionally fumble in college football but doing it forward is risky because it can be misunderstood as a forward pass. When a forward pass occurs over the line of scrimmage, it’s illegal and flagged for a penalty. 

The player is allowed to lateral the ball backward, which would be considered a fumble if it touched the ground at any time during the game. This often happens on the final play when the losing team has the ball and they need to go a long distance for a touchdown. 

In most cases, the referees would notice the player intentionally pushing the ball forward, which would get ruled as a pass rather than a fumble. This is a five-yard penalty and a loss of down for the offense. 

Can The Ground Cause A Fumble In College Football?

Can You Advance A Fumble In College Football?

The offense can advance a fumble at all times in the game, except for two scenarios. This is to improve the game of play without allowing players to manipulate the rules to try and gain extra yards or steal points. 

The offense can only advance a fumble in college football if the original ball carrier recovers it on fourth downs and during PAT and two-point conversion attempts. 

4th Downs

Because of a scenario in the NFL roughly 20 years ago, both the NFL and college football changed the fumble rules. This rule change made it illegal for a team to fumble and advance it on fourth down. 

This cleans up the game because players would try to fumble on purpose on fourth down in the past. It was not a good way to play the game, leading to many messy plays and confusion. 

If the offense does fumble on fourth down, only the original player who fumbled the ball can advance it. If another player does, the ball returns to where it was fumbled. 

However, if the defense recovers the fumble, they can advance it the other way and try to score or gain a better field position for their offense. 

PATs & Two-Point Conversions

The other play when fumbling forward is not allowed is on PATs and two-point conversions. This is to avoid players trying to fumble the ball on purpose if they are short of the end zone to keep the play alive. 

When the offense fumbles the ball on this play, it can only be recovered by the original ball carrier, or else the ball will be returned to the same spot. 

The defense also can score an extra point by picking up the fumble and returning it to the other end zone. This play would award the defense with two points instead. 

How Does A Fumble Work In College Football?

A fumble occurs when a player loses control of the ball while attempting to advance it. This can happen when a player carries the ball or when the quarterback tries to attempt a pass. 

If a fumble occurs, the ball becomes live and can be recovered by either team. The team that recovers the ball can then attempt to advance it after establishing possession. 

However, not all fumbles get recovered by a player. If the ball is fumbled and no player on either team recovers it, possession is awarded to the team that last had possession of the ball. 

This typically happens when the ball rolls out of bounds before either team gets it. If a defensive player then recovers the ball, they can attempt to advance it in the opposite direction. 

In college football, all major plays are reviewable, so referees have a good opportunity to get every call correct. They look to see if a runner was down by contact before fumbling before making a final ruling on the field. 

Can You Fumble The Ball Forward Into The Endzone In College Football?

Another difficult-to-understand rule in college football for beginners who don’t know the sport well is when a player fumbles the ball forward into the endzone. This happens more often than people would think. 

Typically, the runner extends the ball to score, and they lose it. It rolls forward into the endzone, and one of three things can happen. 

Can You Fumble The Ball Forward In College Football?

Offense Recovers The Ball

If the ball is fumbled in the end zone and is recovered by either team, the play is live, and the team that recovers the ball can attempt to advance it. If the offense gets it, they get a touchdown unless it happens on fourth down. 

However, we’ve seen it happen many times. Whether the player got the ball knocked loose, or they drop it while trying to score, there is a scramble to recover the ball in the endzone, and the offense can recover it to score 6 points. 

Defense Recovers The Ball

Another scenario is when the defense recovers the ball in the endzone. If they can scoop it without going down, they can try and advance the ball forward toward the other end zone. 

If not, this is known as a touchback. When this happens, the defense gets possession of the ball at their own 25-yard line. 

The Ball Goes Out Of Bounds

Lastly, there is a chance the football goes out of bounds if neither team can recover it first. This favors the defense, and it also gets ruled as a touchback. 

This grants possession of the ball back to the defense starting at their 25-yard line. 

Key Takeaways

  • If a player accidentally fumbles the ball forward, it’s allowed unless it occurs during a PAT, two-point conversion, or fourth down. 
  • If the ball is fumbled forward into the endzone, the offense can recover for a TD, the defense can recover for a touchback, or it can go out of bounds for a touchback. 
  • If a player fumbles forward and the ball goes out of bounds, the ball is returned to the spot where the fumble occurred. If the fumble goes out of bounds backward, the ball is spotted at the new line of scrimmage where it went out.