It’s that time of year again. Students are returning to college campuses and college football is beginning again, raising the all-important question for cableless college students: how to stream college football games?
If you’re already anxious about not being able to watch your favorite college football teams, read on.
How to stream college football: So many different channels
Because of the sheer quantity of college football games, they air on over a dozen channels. Though most teams will likely end up on the same channel more often than not, some end up on different networks week to week depending on their opponent, conference and popularity. For example, thanks to flex scheduling, the NCAA can shift games around to focus on hot teams.
But those aren’t the only wrinkles: Due to broadcast agreements, some games only appear on certain networks and some live games are subject to regional availability and blackouts depending on where you live and how you’re trying to watch. (To be fair, the latter will apply to pretty much any streaming service or broadcaster depending on the terms of licensing agreements.)
But generally, with at least one notable exception, the vast majority of college football games, whether national or regional, playoffs or regular season, end up airing on one of the following channels:
Big four networks: CBS, FOX, ABC, NBC
Cable networks: ESPN, FS1, CBS Sports Network
College sports networks: Big Ten Network, SEC Network, ACC Network, Pac-12 Network
Streaming sports networks: ESPN+, ESPN3, ESPNU, Stadium, SEC Network+, ACC Network Extra
If you have access to all of those services, you’ll be able to watch 99% of college football games that are broadcast somewhere.
How to stream college football: The best streaming services
Once you know where the games play, it’s just a matter of finding the streaming service that delivers as many of those channels as possible. We checked out some of the top streaming services, crunched the numbers for how many games you would actually get based on the current NCAA football broadcast schedule and we found four that deliver different mixes of most of those channels: Hulu, YouTube TV, FuboTV and Sling.
Four might not seem like many, but the fact is that most other sports streaming services are missing too many channels to recommend if you’re trying to maximize your ability to stream college football. Live college football only plays in so many places, so if the service is missing key channels — ESPN, ESPN+, ESPN3 and ESPNU combined are scheduled to broadcast just over 140 games this season — then it’s not a great way to watch college football.
But Hulu, YouTube TV, FuboTV and Sling all offer enough channels for roughly 75% or more of college football games. They vary in pricing, some specific channels and features like cloud DVR, but they all offer a multitude of college football games.
So if you want to know how to stream college football, read more about each of the four options below. If you get one of them, no matter the channel your team is playing on, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to watch. The only thing left to do is read on and get your streams locked down before you miss too many games.
Before we go into these four services, a quick note for Notre Dame fans because there’s only one way. If you want to make sure you get Notre Dame’s games, you need Peacock TV, which has all their home games. Otherwise, you’ll need the big four networks to watch most of the games.
If we were to go in on one service to stream NCAA football games, we would go for the Hulu + Live/ESPN+/Disney+ bundle. Unfortunately, Disney+ is included with the bundle, which is a straight waste of money for college football purchases. Aside from that, this Hulu bundle, which critically includes ESPN+, provides the best mix of good price, quantity of games and useful features.
In terms of the important channels, you’re only missing the Pac-12 Network, SEC Network+, ACC Network Extra, ESPN3 and Stadium, which adds up to about 81 missed games, not counting playoffs. That’s the least amount of games missed for a single service and for a fairly friendly $72.99 per month.
Alas, if the Pac-12 is your jam, you’re going to want to consider FuboTV or Sling because there’s no way to get the Pac-12 Network on Hulu, though the big four networks will likely get you some of the Pac-12 games throughout the season.
But we like other things about Hulu too besides its price and coverage. You get 50 hours of Cloud DVR storage (can upgrade to 200 hours) and can stream on two devices at once, which is not great but presumably acceptable for most people most of the time. But what really pushed Hulu over the edge is its college football user experience and features.
Hulu offers a dedicated college football hub where you can easily find all the college football games on the platform and follow your favorite teams for personalized recommendations. When you add your favorite teams or upcoming matches to “My Stuff,” you can also receive push notifications before the games begin, giving you enough time to either get to a big screen or pull the game up on your phone. And if you just like college football in general, you can use the Live Guide to easily switch among multiple games.
Bottom line: Hulu beats YouTube TV on the number of games (as well as the sheer volume of non-college football content), it beats FuboTV and Sling on price and it beats all three on user experience. For most people wanting to know how to stream college football, Hulu is the most straightforward option, with decent pricing and fairly comprehensive college football coverage.
2. YouTube TV
If you just want a cheap, convenient, all-around good cable replacement that also gets you a good amount of college football, YouTube TV is probably your best bet. In terms of important channels, you’re missing the Pac-12 Network, ESPN+, ESPN3, SEC Network+, ACC Network Extra and Stadium, approximately 128 missed games, not counting playoffs. You can include the Sports Plus add-on to get Stadium for another $10.99 per month, but that only gets you down to approximately 105 games missed and isn’t a great value in our opinion. But again, that still leaves you with hundreds of other games across the big four networks, ESPN, CBSSN and the rest of the important channels.
In one big win for the platform, YouTube TV offers unlimited cloud DVR and will record any game you add to your library, the only service on this list to offer an unlimited option and the only one to not charge extra in some way for more DVR. (Hulu and Sling can upgrade beyond 50 hours up to 200 hours for more money; FuboTV offers up to 250 hours free with its Starter package and charges to upgrade to 1,000 hours.)
Otherwise, there’s nothing special about YouTube TV in terms of college football. It’s a fantastic replacement for cable in general, but it’s clearly not designed to accommodate college football fanatics and doesn’t offer anything special to engage that audience. If you don’t mind using two different services and already have YouTube TV, you can simply subscribe to ESPN+ on its own for $6.99 per month and cut your missed games from the basic package down from 128 to 81, making it much more comparable to Hulu in both price and college football coverage.
Bottom line: YouTube TV is the best option for those who are more interested in finding a general cable replacement than in catching every single college football game and aren’t willing to overpay.
If you want to stream as many college football games as possible, FuboTV offers the most possibilities at the most costly price point. The $64.99 per month starter package (which in terms of college football is comparable to FuboTV’s Pro and Elite lineups) is only missing ACC Network Extra, SEC Network, SEC Network+, Pac-12 Network, Stadium, ESPN3, ESPNU and ESPN+, approximately 151 missed games.
But if you include the Fubo Extra add-on for another $7.99 per month, you get Stadium, the Pac-12 Network, SEC Network and ESPNU, drastically cutting that number of missed games down to about 90 games. So even with the college football add-on, FuboTV’s coverage is still missing a lot of games without ESPN3 and ESPN+. But if you’ve been reading closely, you know you can subscribe to ESPN+ on its own for $6.99 per month, cutting your missed games to about 43, easily the lowest amount of missed games for these services, if you don’t mind going to two different places for content.
Even without ESPN+ and just sticking to FuboTV, there are other good things going on. The starter package includes a Family Share option, which permits simultaneous streaming on three screens. If you truly want to maximize access to college football for you and perhaps some friends and family members, you can upgrade to stream on 10 devices at once for $9.99 per month.
The platform also offers a variety of packages and add-ons if non-college football TV matters, but is otherwise only special because it allows you to get the most college football games possible.
Bottom line: FuboTV is a solid, if pricey, standalone college football streaming service and can achieve the most college football coverage possible if ESPN+ is also purchased separately.