What is a Pick Play in College Football?

Are you ready to dive into the exciting world of college football? Get ready to learn about a game-changing tactic that can leave defenders scratching their heads – the pick play!

In this article, we’ll break down what exactly a pick play is and how it influences the outcome of college football games. So, buckle up, and let’s explore this intriguing strategy together!

What is a Pick Play in College Football?

A pick play occurs when an offensive player strategically blocks or “picks” a defender to create space for another offensive player.

The primary purpose behind executing a pick play is to confuse defenders, disrupt their coverage, and provide an opportunity for the targeted receiver to get open and make a catch.

Variations and Effective Strategies

Teams employ various variations and strategies when executing pick plays, each designed with specific objectives in mind.

One common approach involves having two receivers run parallel routes – one acting as the picker while the other acts as the target receiver. This creates confusion for defenders who must navigate through multiple moving bodies.

Another effective strategy is using crossing routes where two receivers cross paths at different depths, forcing defenders to communicate effectively or risk losing track of their assigned receivers.

Furthermore, teams may also use stack formations near the line of scrimmage, causing difficulties for defenders attempting to cover multiple potential targets simultaneously.

Legality and Rulebook Interpretation

Understanding the rules surrounding pick plays in college football is essential for both players and fans. Let’s take a closer look at the NCAA guidelines to grasp what constitutes a legal or illegal pick play.

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NCAA Rules

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has specific regulations in place regarding pick plays. These rules aim to maintain fairness on the field while ensuring player safety.

According to the NCAA, offensive players are allowed to block defenders within one yard of the line of scrimmage as long as they do not initiate contact above the shoulders or use excessive force.

This rule allows for some leeway when executing picks but emphasizes fair competition without endangering players’ well-being.

Legal vs. Illegal Pick Plays

To determine whether a pick play is legal or illegal, two key factors come into play: intent and positioning.

A legal pick play involves an offensive player making incidental contact with a defender while attempting to create separation for another receiver within that one-yard zone near the line of scrimmage.

The primary intention should be running their assigned route rather than solely blocking or impeding defenders.

On the other hand, an illegal pick occurs when an offensive player intentionally targets and initiates significant contact with a defender beyond that allowable one-yard area, hindering their ability to cover receivers effectively.

Additionally, any form of targeting above the shoulders or using excessive force will result in penalties against the offense.

Impact on Offense

Pick plays are a powerful weapon in the arsenal of college football offenses. Let’s explore how these plays are used to create separation for receivers and gain an advantage over defenders, along with some notable examples from memorable games.

Creating Separation and Gaining Advantage

Offenses strategically employ pick plays to create confusion among defenders. By setting up well-timed blocks or picks, offensive players can disrupt the coverage schemes of opposing defenses, allowing their intended receiver to break free from tight coverage and find open space on the field.

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Notable Examples

Numerous college football games have witnessed pick plays that resulted in big gains or touchdowns for offenses.

One such example took place during a crucial rivalry matchup when a wide receiver cleverly executed a pick play near the goal line, leaving his teammate wide open for an easy touchdown catch.

Countermeasures by Defenses

Defensive teams are well aware of the impact that pick plays can have on college football games. To neutralize the effectiveness of these offensive tactics, defenses employ various strategies.

Zone Coverage

One effective strategy is implementing zone coverage schemes. In this approach, defenders are responsible for specific areas rather than individual receivers.

This allows them to anticipate and react quickly to offensive routes, making it harder for offenses to execute successful picks without being closely monitored.

Man-to-Man Defense

Another approach employed by defenses is using man-to-man defense. By assigning each defender a specific receiver to cover throughout the play, defenders can stick closely to their assigned targets and minimize the opportunity for offensive players to set up effective picks.

Switching Assignments

When facing intricate pick designs or crossing routes, switching assignments becomes crucial for defenders. Communication between defensive players is key in identifying potential picks and smoothly transitioning coverage responsibilities from one defender to another during the play.


1: Are pick plays legal in college football?

Yes, pick plays are legal as long as they adhere to certain guidelines. Offensive players can block defenders within one yard of the line of scrimmage without using excessive force or targeting above the shoulders.

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2: How do offenses utilize pick plays effectively?

Offenses employ various strategies such as crossing routes, stack formations, and parallel routes with well-timed picks to confuse defenders and create opportunities for receivers to get open and make catches.

3: How do defenses counteract pick plays?

Defenses use different strategies like zone coverage, man-to-man defense, or switching assignments between defenders to minimize the impact of offensive pick plays and maintain coverage on targeted receivers.

4: Have there been any controversies surrounding pick plays in college football?

Yes, there have been instances where potential illegal picks sparked debates among fans, coaches, and officials regarding contact rules, and intentions behind blocks/picks used during these plays that led to discussions about fair competition.


In the world of college football, pick plays have become a fascinating and controversial aspect of offensive strategy.

By strategically blocking defenders to create separation for receivers, teams gain an advantage over their opponents. As the game evolves, coaches continue to innovate, pushing the boundaries and shaping the future of pick plays in this thrilling sport.

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