How to Watch College Football Games Without Cable

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Because there are so many different teams college football teams and they all sell their TV content in different ways, there’s no central place to go online to watch college football games without cable. With that being said, you can still watch a tremendous amount of college football via the web. Here’s how.

First, Sort Out Which Channels You Need

Before you begin your quest for online college football, you need to sort out which channels you need to get.

ESPN is a must


Obviously, ESPN is king when it comes to college football.

A glance at this ESPN’s college football schedule reveals that ESPN will broadcast 18 different college football games this Saturday across its various channels. Each game lasts about 3 hours, so that’s 54 hours of college football to digest. If you still want more after watching all that football, then you might want to seek the help of a trained professional.


The main ESPN channel is crucial if you want to watch the most important NCAA football games, so be sure that whatever service you go with has it.

In addition to airing marquee matchups on Thursday nights, ESPN also broadcasts the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl as well as the Peach Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, the Cotton Bowl Classic and the College Football Playoff National Championship.


With ESPNU, you can tune in to watch various college football matchups on Thursdays during primetime, Saturdays at noon, Saturday afternoon and on Saturday during primetime.


ESPN2 is not as essential as the main ESPN channel and ESPNU, but you’ll be able to watch more games throughout the week if you can get it. With ESPN2, you can watch college football teams square off on Sundays, Fridays and sometimes on other days.


ESPN3 is the best way to watch low-profile college football games – but it’s different from the other ESPN channels. Basically, ESPN3 is a special “bonus” internet channel for cable TV subscribers and subscribers of some (but not all) cable replacement services. You can find a ton of college football coverage during the season via ESPN3, including lots of small market college football games. Check out ESPN3’s full college broadcast schedule to see everything you can get with ESPN3.

  • Tip: If you access or the WatchESPN or ESPN mobile application via an on-campus (.edu) or on-base (.mil) network you can get ESPN3 content for free.

You’ll need access to ABC sometimes, too


The other network that broadcasts national college football games is ABC. Most (but not all) ABC games are also carried by ESPN. You can either get ABC through your TV antenna or through an internet-based cable replacement service that carries your local ABC affiliate.

It’s a good idea to make sure that ABC is available in your area before you sign up with any cable replacement plan. Most cable TV replacement services provide a way to find out exactly what you’ll get before you buy on their official websites.

Conference-specific channels


If you follow a specific team, you may want to check its conference’s website to find out if you can watch games online. There are 11 I-A college football conferences, and some have set up their own TV networks.

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Some conferences give away content for free, but others make you pay for access. Still others won’t let you watch at all unless you buy a cable TV subscription and log in with TV Everywhere.

Here is a brief summary of what 4 of the major college football conferences have to offer in the way of live streams.

ACC Network

The ACC Network has partnered up with ESPN, so if you get a cable replacement service that lets you log into watchESPN you can watch live ACC college football games there. You can also watch live games for free via the ACC website or via the free ACC app.

Big 10 Network

You can get online access to the Big 10 Network without cable by buying a single team “School Pass” ($80 for the season, $10 monthly) or with a “Conference Pass” ($120 for the season, $15 monthly). If you have cable, you may be able to log in for free with your TV Everywhere credentials.

Pac 12 Network

The Pac-12 Network is stingy when it comes to its content. The league does have a streaming service, but there is no internet-only subscription option. You need a cable subscription to log in with TV Everywhere via the Pac 12 app or on the web via

SEC Network

The SEC Network has also partnered up with ESPN, so if you get the right cable replacement service you’ll be able to watch SEC college football games on watchESPN or via the SEC Network’s official site.

Fox College Sports


Fox airs Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 matchups across 3 cable channels: Fox College Sports Central, Fox College Sports Atlantic and Fox College Sports Pacific.

Why you may have to rely on your TV antenna for local broadcasts

Most cable replacement services offer local TV, but they’re still working out deals – so local TV coverage is spotty in rural areas. If whatever internet-based cable replacement service you decide to get hasn’t worked out a contract with the affiliate in your area, you’ll have to use your TV antenna to catch local broadcast games.

You can’t opt to get local TV from somewhere else

If you follow a well-known team like the Longhorns or Notre Dame, there’s a big chance that most of the games will be televised nationally and you’ll be able to tune in via the web via ABC and the ESPN channels. However, if you follow a lesser-known team and you live far away from wherever that team is located, you’re going to miss some games.

The exact set of local channels you’ll get when you subscribe to a cable replacement service is totally dependent on your physical location. Unfortunately, all the cable replacement services force you to accept whatever regional channels are available in your particular locale.

In 1984, the NCAA football teams went to court and won the right to negotiate their own TV contracts. The landmark ruling ushered in a new era in college sports at the time. However, the web of business deals that sprung up in the wake of the decision seems to be standing in the way of the establishment of a single go-to college football streaming site.

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Cable TV Via the Internet

If you’re thinking about cutting the cord but you want to make sure that you can still watch college football, here are a few good cable replacement services to consider.

YouTube TV

YouTube TV 1 1
  • ABC / other local TV: Likely, because YouTube TV’s local TV coverage is good overall.
  • ESPN: Yes
  • ESPNU: Yes
  • ESPN2: Yes
  • ESPN3: Yes
  • SEC Network: Yes
  • ACC Network: No
  • Big 10 Network: No
  • Pac 12 Network: No
  • Fox College Sports Pacific: No
  • Fox College Sports Atlantic: No
  • Fox College Sports Central: No

YouTube TV offers a solid all-around deal for cord-cutters that like college football.

YouTube TV is very reasonably priced ($35) compared to most other cable replacement services, yet it offers good college football options. Because YouTube TV has fairly decent local TV coverage and also has all the ESPN channels including ESPN3, it could be all you need.

Also worth considering: YouTube TV has the best DVR system out there right now. You don’t have to pay extra for DVR and you can record an unlimited number of hours.

On the other hand, YouTube TV doesn’t offer access to the ACC, Big 10 or Pac 12 networks. If you follow a team that belongs to one of those conferences, that could be a deal breaker.

Sling TV

pasted image 0 37
  • ABC / other local TV: Sling’s local TV coverage is weak.
  • ESPN: Yes
  • ESPNU: Yes
  • ESPN2: Yes
  • ESPN3: Yes
  • SEC Network: Yes
  • ACC Network: Yes
  • Big 10 Network: No
  • Pac 12 Network: Yes
  • Fox College Sports Pacific: No
  • Fox College Sports Atlantic: No
  • Fox College Sports Central: No

If you’re a casual college football fan and you just want the ESPN channels so that you can watch all the big games, you may want to give Sling a look.

Even though Sling’s local TV coverage is pretty spotty, that really doesn’t matter if you can fill in any gaps with a TV antenna setup.

With Sling, you get cheap access to all of major ESPN channels plus several niche college football conference networks that the competition doesn’t carry.

If you do decide to go with Sling, pay attention to what you’re doing when you sign up. Sling can be inexpensive, but if you’re not careful you will spend more than you need to spend. Despite being marketed as “al la carte” and easy to use, Sling’s service plans are in fact quite complicated.

The Orange plan is the best deal for college football fans because it gives you access to ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN3 for just $20. If you want more college football content, you can get the Sports Extra add-on and get ESPNU, ACC, SEC and Pac 12 for $5, bringing the total monthly cost to $25. (However, you won’t get any local TV channels if all you get is Orange – so be sure you have access to over-the-air TV before you go that route.)

If you want local TV channels, you’ll need to pay $45 per month to get Sling Blue, Sling Orange and the Sports Extra add-on. It may not be such a great idea to get Blue, though, because Sling is lagging behind the other internet-based cable TV replacement platforms when it comes to local coverage. Check the Sling website before you sign up to find out whether or not you’ll be able to watch locally broadcast college football games.

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Sling also offers DVR functionality – but you have to pay five extra dollars to get it.

PlayStation Vue

  • ABC / other local TV: PlayStation Vue offers outstanding local TV coverage.
  • ESPN: Yes
  • ESPNU: Yes
  • ESPN2: Yes
  • ESPN3: Yes
  • SEC Network: Yes
  • ACC Network: No
  • Big 10 Network: No
  • Pac 12 Network: No
  • Fox College Sports Pacific: Yes
  • Fox College Sports Atlantic: Yes
  • Fox College Sports Central: Yes

Despite what PlayStation Vue”s brand name implies, you don’t need a PlayStation to use this cable TV replacement service.

If all you want is the ESPN channels, great local TV coverage and cloud DVR, you can get the Core plan for $40 per month – but if you’re willing to upgrade to the $55 Elite plan you can get the 3 Fox College Sports channels, too.

Because PlayStation Vue’s local TV coverage is great, there’s a big chance you can see locally broadcast games without using a TV antenna to fill in the gaps.

If you follow an ACC or SEC team you may want to go with a different cable replacement service, though. Fox College Sports only covers Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 games.

Hulu with Live TV

pasted image 0 27 1
  • ABC / other local TV: Hulu with Live TV’s local TV coverage is good overall.
  • ESPN: Yes
  • ESPNU: Yes
  • ESPN2: Yes
  • ESPN3: Yes
  • SEC Network: Yes
  • ACC Network: No
  • Big 10 Network: Yes
  • Pac 12 Network: No
  • Fox College Sports Pacific: No
  • Fox College Sports Atlantic: No
  • Fox College Sports Central: No

Hulu with Live TV is still in beta but it’s already not a bad way to get the most important college football games.

Hulu has a large network of local TV channels – so if you currently get most of the college football action you want to see via the airwaves, it’s worth checking out.

Like YouTube TV, Hulu also offers cloud DVR functionality – and you don’t have to pay extra to use it.

The downside of Hulu with TV is that it doesn’t have the ACC Network or Pac 12.

In my opinion, YouTube TV provides one of the best all-around good cable replacement services for college football fans because it’s reasonably priced, has excellent features and integrates with YouTube. Plus, because YouTube TV is owned by the great and mighty Google, the service has enormous resources and will likely get better as time goes on.

If you’re a casual college football fan and all you want is the ESPN channels, Sling TV will hook you up for just $20. You’ll probably have to rely on your TV antenna to catch local TV college football broadcasts, though, since Sling is way behind when it comes to local TV coverage.


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