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How to Read a Football Scoreboard

At a live game, the scoreboard will help you understand the action. Below, we have tried to explain the basic components of a football scoreboard.

(Photo courtesy of Everbrite.)

Score: Indicates the score of the game. The home team’s score will usually say the name of the team (e.g. Cougars) or, as pictured above, "Home." The visiting team’s score will be under “Guest” or “Away.” In the photo above, the home team is leading 7 to 0.

Game clock: Counts down the time left in the quarter. In the photo above, there are 14 minutes and 29 seconds left in the quarter.

Play clock: Not pictured. Counts down the time the offense has to run the next play. The clock starts once the previous play has ended. This clock is usually placed in several locations away from the scoreboard so that the quarterback can see it easily from either side of the field.

Quarter: Identifies the current quarter (1-4) of the game. In the photo above, the game is in the first quarter.

Ball on: The imaginary line, known as the line of scrimmage, where the next play will begin. In the photo above, the ball is on the 37 yard line.

Down: Will be 1-4 and indicates the number of tries out of 4 the team has used to achieve a “first down” or score points. In the photo above, the team is on the first of four downs.

To go: (or Yards To Go): The number of yards required to achieve a first down. If the sign says “Goal” that means that the team started 1st down closer than 10 yards away from the end-zone and does not have an opportunity for another first down; they must score within 4 downs. In the photo above, there are 10 yards to go to acheive a first down.

Possession: The team that has possession of the ball will usually have a dot or an image shaped like a football next to their name. In the photo above, the home team has the ball because the football-shaped light is on the home side of the scoreboard.

Timeouts left (TOL or TO): Number of timeouts the team has left in the half. In the photo above, each team has 3 timeouts left.

Below is another example of a scoreboard, with an explaination of the action.

(Photo courtesy of Everbrite.)

In the example above, the home team is up 21 to 17 with 1:56 to go in the fourth quarter. The home team has the ball and it is second down with 7 yards to go for a first down from the 39 yard line. The home team has 2 timeouts and the visiting team has 1 remaining.

Not all scoreboards look the same. Below is one final example in a slightly different format:

(Photo courtesy of Everbrite.)

On this final scoreboard, the home team is winning 13 to 7 with 12 minutes and 28 seconds to go in the fourth quarter. There is no possesion indication, but the team with the ball is on 3rd down with five yards to go for a first down.