Snowball effect real in college football


Published: Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 26, 2013 at 4:01 p.m.

In the sticky heat of the summer as we look down the road to another college football season, there is a way to make you feel a little more refreshed and cooled down.

Because I’m going to write about snowballs.

Ah, you feel better already, right?

After so many years of watching and covering the sport, I’ve seen a lot of snowballs. And I know this — there are some coming again this year.

The real talent of a coaching staff is to manage the snowballs. Some you have to find a way to slow down and eventually melt. With others, you want to keep adding snow as they wipe out everything in their paths.

Last year was a perfect example of snowballs. And despite the heat outside that will intrude into the football season, I think snowballs are more plentiful in Southern football.

Coaches talk all the time about not letting one loss become two. But sometimes they become 10. Or more.

Take Southern Miss last year. Please. The Golden Eagles were returning 11 starters from a team that won 12 games the year before. Southern Miss had a new coach in Ellis Johnson and a tough schedule.

Two elements for a possible snowball.

And it rolled right through Hattiesburg.

The Golden Eagles went 0-12. They were hurt by injuries, but 0-12? Johnson was cut loose after one season. The snowball won.

Look at Tennessee last season. Does anybody think that Tennessee had enough talent to win more than one SEC game last year? Of course.

Remember when Florida went to Knoxville and the Vols were all lathered up for the big game? Instead, the Gators put the Tennessee season in the freezer. They started a snowball, and it gathered negative momentum throughout the season.

The same thing happened at Auburn. And Arkansas. The snowball is difficult to stop when it gains momentum.

That’s when you need a coach with a door jamb or a leader on the field who won’t allow the snowball to pass.

Snowballs go both ways.

Some teams get them going in the right direction, and they win a bunch of games and they start believing they are better than they are. Last year’s Florida team was a perfect example. The Gators started to believe they would find a way to win and overachieved their way to 11 wins.

Same deal with Urban Meyer’s Ohio State team. That was not 12-0 talent, but Meyer and his staff got the snowball rolling in the right direction.

Momentum is an unsung part of a college football season. It’s such an obvious factor within games, but its importance in a season is overlooked.

The snowballs usually don’t affect the elite and the downtrodden. But they can.

Usually, the really good teams are going to end up within a win or two from where they are projected. And the really bad teams won’t be able to generate enough momentum to become bowl eligible.

But there are cases like 2000 Alabama. The Tide were coming off an SEC title and talking national championship in the preseason. But a Crimson snowball fueled by a dysfunctional coaching staff turned into a chilly 3-8 season.

That same season, Bob Stoops was in his second year as Oklahoma’s coach. He got the snowball going in the right direction, winning 13 straight games and a national title after a seven-win season the year before. Also in 2000, Lou Holtz won eight games at South Carolina after winning zero the year before.

There are a lot of factors that play into bad momentum. Negative energy in a fan base can freeze any efforts by a coach to turn things around. Injuries are almost always part of it. Chemistry isn’t there. And can a team get a break?

The opposite is true for positive momentum. You stay healthy, you get every replay call, your fans stay up, you have a good locker room.

All we know for sure is that snowballs are coming again this season. Right now, they sound like a cool break from the heat. But only if they’re going up the hill.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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