I don’t believe in the momentum of sport in the traditional sense.
For starters, this meaning – which I think boils down to a bunch of complex factors to the idea that things going in one direction keep going in that direction unless some outside force acts on it – seems more correctly described as inertia. And as the theme song of Bill Nye the Scientist and my two trips through AP Physics – kudos to Coach Skip! – and taught me, inertia is a) a property of matter b) whereby (matter) continues in its existing state of rest or uniform straight line motion, unless that state is altered by an external force.
But momentum – which is mass multiplied by velocity if we’re talking about vector quantities of linear or angular momentum – is related to inertia, and you calculate similar concepts with similar units if you do it scientifically.
Saying, on the other hand, that team or player X “has all the momentum” or “has gained momentum” or something else? It’s not scientific, and if it werethere would be ways to quantify it or find a value for it.
What I believe in is, well, belief. And I think the Florida Gators have that right now.
To me, what many call “momentum” in sports is more like a combination of belief, confidence, focus, and maybe a little esprit de corps; it is a driving force, perhaps, and which can — perhaps by increasing the inertia of a team! – overwhelm an insufficient amount of belief in an enemy.
Arguably, that’s how Florida beat Utah last week: Florida had the verve to score its game-winning touchdown and persevere after a first interception dropped on the game-defining possession, and Utah – who hammered Florida’s defense with points in the second half – lacked the conviction or confidence in this running game to try it on the game-deciding series of downs, Cameron Rising throwing at place an interception in the end zone.
If you’re invested in the idea of momentum, you can explain that as momentum, of course: Florida stayed on the move on offense and was never stopped by Utah when it mattered, and Florida provided sufficient strength (in the form of a pick) to thwart Utah’s momentum. But I find it more useful to be able to identify specific parts of what we collectively call momentum than to throw around the term as a catch-all.
After all, what do we mean about Florida when we say the Gators gained momentum in their SEC opener on Saturday night with Kentucky? The Gators are brimming with confidence, clearly, after this win over Utah, and have the advantage of what appears to be Billy Napier bringing focus and confidence to his game planning, play calls and program architecture – but are they too confident? Will they “minimize” their opponent, or just fail to run their engines as well against a team after just one week of recovery and preparation instead of months and months of it? Can Anthony Richardson be this magical against SEC- and Fleet-sized defenders?
Okay, that last one sounds rhetorical.
But: How the hell could we precisely measure what all this “momentum” means? Or precisely measure my idea of inertia, for that matter? Will Florida jump on a 10-0 lead or fall into a 14-3 hole “prove” anything? What if there’s something we’re declaring a fluke somewhere in there? What variables do we use – points, yards per play, penalties per drive?
I know the outcome of this game is going to be used as a referendum on Florida – and Napier. If the Gators go 2-0, they might suddenly have college football’s best pair of wins in their young coach’s freshman year; if they’re coping after their sensational win over Kentucky, maybe they need to grow up and learn how to manage success – that is, maintain their momentum, instead of letting an outside force act on them.
But the beauty of it all is that we can not measure this, and that college football’s primary relationships with physics lie in the speed and strength of players on the field and the presence of entropy in a chaotic sport played primarily by teenagers. Momentum should partly explain how things happen; being gobsmacked and bewildered by things going on otherwise is a big part of the fun.
If Florida plays the way I think they are capable of doing their best, I think they could beat Kentucky by multiple touchdowns tonight. If Florida doesn’t, it could still beat Kentucky – and, gasp, wasted some momentum.
I’m going to care a lot more about how often I can clap. I encourage you to do the same.