If ever there were a task that this blog was suited to, I think that winning the world’s smallest trophy is it. The APS and Physics Central are sponsoring a Nano Bowl to promote interest in physics via a football-related video. The winners get $1000 and a “nanoscale trophy” made of “silcon and metal.”
They seem to be suggesting some sort of mechanical demonstration, but I think that a statistical/non-linear analysis might be much more interesting. I remember reading about the physics of the “Mexican wave” (which is what everyone outside of the U.S. calls “the wave” even though it most likely originated within the U.S.) in the news a couple of years ago and think we could do something similar. They found that the wave moved predominantly clock-wise, except in Australia where it runs counter-clockwise (I’m not making that up). Independent of culture, these waves move at about 20 seats/s and are about 15 seats wide. I had not realized at the time that the work (1, 2) was the result of Tomas Vicsek — a Hungarian research I knew better for his work on stochastic ratchets.
My suggestion is that we could we model the network of laterals in a successful punt return for a touchdown using “the play” and this year’s Trinity college finale as data. This might work for two reasons — it’s a cool play to watch and it would be an application of non-linear dynamics approaches (something people might find much more interesting that some inertia or torque problem). Additionally, if we solve it collective on a blog it would be oh-so-very information age. My initial feeling is that we need a break down of each player who had possession, who they passed to, and in what direction was that pass. If we had the distribution for yards after catch, then we might actually have a stochastic ratchet-like process where after each catch there is an asymmetric run toward the goal, followed by a more brownian lateral that redistributes the ball to somewhere with a lower density of players. The number of laterals, the density of players and the distribution of yards after catch might be the only necessary parameters to determine if (on average) such a play will succeed or fail.
Maybe we could also use Michigan’s failed attempt against Nebraska as a counterpoint (and, by providing some much neeeded snark, also use all of our tags).