Like many others, I am watching the AFC Championship featuring the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots. Something that has caught my eye during this game has been the punting, as Denver's punter is doing quite well and consistently giving the Patriots poor field position. On one punt in particular, the ball bounced and looked like it wasn't going anywhere, but proceeded to have, as they call it in the industry, a "Denver bounce", meaning it was beneficial for Denver. This ball ended up bouncing towards the end zone and pinned the Patriots inside the 5 yard line. I've seen many other punts that have bounced in the other direction, so I wonder how random this occurrence really is and whether or not a punter can control this.
Through my research, I've determined that this is basically random. The roll of the ball depends on where on the ball contacts the ground first. If it bounces off the center, more flat part of the football, the ball is more likely to bounce straight up in the air. If it bounces more towards the pointier ends of the football, the angle of the ball at the contact with the ground will make it bounce further horizontally. The ball basically points towards where it is going to bounce in this situation, thus determining which team gets the benefit of the bounce.
So punters really can't choose which way the ball is going to bounce. In reality, they're expecting the punt to be caught, so their only real objective in kicking the ball is to have it travel far and have a lot of hang time. Hang time is really dependent on the initial velocity and the launch angle of the ball, as well as the air resistance acting on the ball through it's flight. The ball will have the least effect felt from air resistance if it is not spinning end over end.
Punting really is a unique skill, and if any punter could master the art of achieving beneficial bounces on the ends of their kicks, then they would likely be wealthy men.