Bob Sparks - 3/57 - SaintPetersBlog

Bob Sparks

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

Electoral College vote a non-story unless Donald Trump is involved

Just like that, it was over.

In Tallahassee and around the country, 538 electors cast their ballots to officially elect Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States.

Of course, they did. There was never going to be a different outcome. Never.

Florida’s 29 electors gathered in the Senate Chamber to do what everyone knew they would do. While protesters gathered in the fourth-floor lobby outside the chamber, all 29 ignored the noise, kept their pledges, and cast their votes for Trump.

I have never felt the desire to attend previous sessions because nothing earth-shattering would occur. Not that anything would be different this time, but I did accept an invitation to sit in the gallery to watch the proceedings.

There was a brief silence when House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues missed the roll call, but he was in the chamber minutes later.

Every four years the Electoral College goes through the same exercise with little fanfare. The only difference between 2016 and every other cycle was the manufactured fake news surrounding a normally routine one-hour ceremony.

This should not have even risen to the level of a story. Ok, maybe the obligatory interviews for a day or two with those who want no part of Trump.

But the every day, every hour, hysteria of the doomed-to-fail pipe dream of getting 37 Republican electors to flip? Should we mention that Trump led by 74 electoral votes going into Monday and officially won by 77?

While two did not vote for Trump, five Democrats decided Hillary Clinton was not for them. Not even Michael Moore’s offer to pay state fines could turn the trick.

Let us not take cheap shots at those who report the news. Instead, many need to be called out for continuing the charade, thereby giving false hope to those reaching for the unreachable.

Most of this falls in the lap of the major networks and national outlets. They were looking for history by fomenting hysteria.

History tells us that a similar attempt failed 16 years ago, when a Republican lost the popular vote, but had more electoral votes. Many might remember political consultant Bob Beckel trying to find two “faithless” electors to flip from George W. Bush to Al Gore in 2000.

If Beckel could not coax or coerce two souls to “vote their conscience,” then finding 37 this year would be comparable to climbing Mt. Everest in Bermuda shorts.

For this exercise in futility, or fake news, good people were subjected to a barrage of intimidating calls and emails. This includes all 29 of Florida’s electors.

Some in other states received death threats. The national media focus was on flipping the electors, not the tactics used by some of the activists.

When the gambit rose to this level, many wonder why President Barack Obama did not issue a statement that might de-escalate the dangerous rhetoric. With electors’ lives being threatened, where is the Justice Department? Federal crimes were being committed.

The media’s conduct surrounding all things Trump faces continuing bipartisan scrutiny. Republicans backing other candidates in the primary, along with the candidates, were frustrated their message could never break through the haze of all Trump, all the time.

Trump opponents were sick of all of the free media he generated. The New York Times estimated Trump earned nearly $2 billion in free media during the primary season. It was off the charts during the general election.

Trump is a ratings magnet. He was responsible for even MSNBC to draw its best numbers during the fall.

This likely explains the hysteria surrounding faithless electors. There will be plenty of opportunities both before and after January 20, 2017, for other Trump-inspired ratings opportunities.

There is a rumor he wants to climb Mt. Everest in Bermuda shorts.

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Jaguars lose 9th straight in Houston; Gus Bradley fired

Never before had the Jacksonville Jaguars lost nine games in a row. On Sunday in Houston that statement became inoperable when the Houston Texans came from behind in the fourth quarter to beat Jacksonville 21-20.

After the game, Jaguars Coach Gus Bradley was fired.

“I thanked Gus Bradley for his commitment to the Jacksonville Jaguars over the past four seasons,” said Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan. “As anyone close to our team knows, Gus gave his staff and players everything he had. It is unfortunately evident that we must make a change.”

An interim coach will be named soon.

In his last game as coach, Bradley’s Jaguars led 20-11 going into the fourth quarter before Houston mustered just enough offense to steal the win. Despite having 20 points on the scoreboard, the Jaguars season-long struggle on the offensive side of the ball continued.

They had only 150 yards of total offense all day, including 44 in the second half while they tried to hold off the Texans. Houston had 387 yards.

Texans’ coach Bill O’Brien benched starting quarterback Blake Osweiler in the second quarter after the second of his two interceptions. The latter pick set up the Jaguars on the Houston 37-yard line where they would score their only offensive touchdown of the day to go up 13-0.

Jacksonville’s only other touchdown came on a 100-yard kickoff return in the third quarter by Marquise Lee. They led 20-8 at that point.

Osweiler’s replacement, Tom Savage, threw for 260 yards. Meanwhile, the struggles of Blake Bortles continued as the Jaguars’ quarterback only managed 92 yards on the day with one interception.

He has clearly regressed this year, but perhaps the lack of a running game has led him to try and do more than he is capable of doing under this offensive scheme and with the talent around him. That is a major reason, along with a 2-12 record, why Bradley lost his job. More personnel actions are certain to come in the next two-to-three weeks.

There are pockets of talent for the new coach, whoever that might be, to build upon. Lee is one of those who have shown a high level of ability. So has cornerback Jalen Ramsey, the first-round draft choice from Florida State who had one of the Jaguars’ two interceptions on Sunday.

Jacksonville has only two more opportunities to end the season on a high note. The first comes on Christmas Eve when the Tennessee Titans come to EverBank Field. Tennessee won the previous meeting in Nashville, 36-22.

 

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Dolphins clinch winning season; keep playoff hopes alive

For the first time since 2008 the Miami Dolphins will finish the regular season with a winning record. That welcome development was assured after the Dolphins drubbed the New York Jets 34-13 in East Rutherford, New Jersey on Saturday night.

By improving their record to 9-5, Miami also stayed in the playoff hunt in the AFC.

The Jets made a game of it for a half, trailing only 13-10 at intermission, but Miami put up three touchdowns in the third quarter to turn the game into a laugher. Though New York finished the game with more total yards, Miami was far more successful at getting into the end zone.

After spotting New York a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, quarterback Matt Moore, filling in for the injured Ryan Tannehill, took over. He threw four touchdown passes on the night, a career high, including a 52-yard strike to Kenny Stills and a 66-yard scoring play to Jarvis Landry that put the game out of reach.

Walt Aiken got the second half going with a blocked punt and a return for a touchdown to make is 20-10.

The Dolphins are catching the Jets at the right time. Right now, New York is a dreadful team.

They are looking for some semblance of respectable quarterback play, but going between Bryce Petty and Ryan Fitzpatrick has not been the answer. A 4-10 record, including just 1-6 at home, is Exhibit A.

The Dolphin defense knocked Petty out of the game in the second half and harassed Fitzpatrick into a 17.1 quarterback rating the remainder of the game. Things are a bit brighter for the Miami quarterback situation, at least for this week.

Moore was 12 for 18, good for 236 yards and the four touchdowns. He threw one interception.

While these are good numbers against the Jets, he has two more games to win that will hopefully get the Dolphins into the playoffs.  Next up is a winnable game in Buffalo against the fading Bills on Christmas Eve.

Some are saying Tannehill could possibly play in the team’s final game, a showdown with the New England Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium. It is more likely that Miami will pin many of their post season hopes on Moore.

The obscure backup quarterback has the chance to make the most significant contribution of his career. His next step comes in one week.

 

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UCF returns to bowl action against Arkansas State

The University of Central Florida Knights look to start another string of bowl appearances when they face the Arkansas State Red Wolves in Saturday’s AutoNation Cure Bowl. They are not traveling far as the game will take place in Orlando’s Camping World Stadium.

Players are always happy to be in a bowl game, but normally look forward to a trip away from home. For a team that went 0-12 the year before, the Knights are more than happy to stay home.

“It’s just a blessing to have the opportunity to be here, said linebacker Shaquem Griffin. “The Cure Bowl is showing us so much love right now and it’s good to have that feeling back. The scenery is awesome. The resort is so big we got lost trying to get (to the press conference).

First-year UCF Coach Scott Frost and the coaching staff are thrilled about the quick turnaround and the opportunity to go to a bowl game based in Orlando.

“I think it’s exciting for our university to get back to a bowl game so fast,” Frost said. “It’s great that it’s hear in Orlando. We hope last year was just a blip on the radar for UCF. I think we’re headed in the right direction, there is no doubt about that.”

Arkansas State (7-5) is glad to be in Orlando as well. Having endured struggles of their own, they are the perfect opponent for UCF.

Everything’s first class and the kids are having a blast,” said Red Wolves Coach Blake Anderson. “It’s been a long road to get here and we struggled to get to this point to be able to win a conference championship and become bowl eligible.”

The Knights rightfully feel they belong in bowl games. The results over the past decade back that up.

Beginning with the 2005 season, former coach George O’Leary took the Knights to seven bowls over 10 seasons. The pinnacle of the program’s success came on New Year’s Day 2014 when they upset Big 12 Champion Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl, 52-42. UCF, led by quarterback Blake Bortles, was a 17-point underdog to the Bears.

After an appearance in the St. Petersburg Bowl following the 2014 season, everything came crashing down. Following last year’s winless season, O’Leary was gone and Frost was brought in.

Not many would guess the Knights (6-6) would become bowl-eligible in Frost’s first season, but they made significant improvements in all areas, especially on defense. UCF has some things in common with Saturday’s opponent.

“I think our football team and their football team are similar,” Frost said at Thursday’s bowl press conference. “Taking nothing away from the rest of their team, I think the strength of their team is their defense. Their defense and our defense are, I think, the two most improved in the country coming off last year.”

Kickoff is 5:30 p.m. Central Florida has been installed as a six-point favorite.

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Will the Lane Kiffin-FAU marriage lead to more wins?

Lane Kiffin is a head coach again. The new Florida Atlantic coach takes over a program anxious to climb the ladder to respectability.

His last stint as a head coach ended on a Los Angeles tarmac in 2013, where he was fired by then-Southern California Athletic Director Pat Haden. The Trojans had just given up 62 points to Arizona State.

Kiffin will, of course, be expected to win, but the pressure will be far less than in previous stops. He lasted only 20 games with the Oakland Raiders, going 5-15 before being fired.

The Raiders’ owner, the late Al Davis, had a simple motto; “Just win, baby.” Kiffin was not the only Raider coach who did not follow the motto.

He then went to Tennessee, another program where 100,000 fans in Neyland Stadium strongly prefers winning over losing each week. Even before their first game, Kiffin accused Urban Meyer and the Florida Gators of cheating.

Kiffin apologized before his 2009 Volunteers went 7-6 in his only season there.

He spent most of four season in Los Angeles, where he took over a program at USC that sports 11 national championships. He was 25-13 in his first three seasons, but lost the first two conference games in 2013, including the 62-41 debacle at Arizona State.

Haden could not even wait until the following morning to fire Kiffin in his office, which says as much about him as it does Kiffin. Did I mention Hayden is the former athletic director?

Over the past three years, Kiffin has improved his stock value while serving as the offensive coordinator at Alabama. While the Crimson Tide is so well known for their defense, there can be little argument that Kiffin’s offense was designed to the strengths of their personnel.

Head Coach Nick Saban yelled a lot, including at Kiffin, but in the end, the ‘Tide’s offense played its role in developing championship-caliber teams.

“I’m very grateful to Coach Saban,” Kiffin said at his introductory press conference in Boca Raton. “My phone was not ringing very much at the time after USC.

“As he says, I got my ass-chewings from time to time,” Kiffin continued. “I’ve learned to accept those. It’s been a great run.”

Despite being on a longer leash than he would be at one of the power programs, Kiffin vows the FAU program will “make great things happen.”

FAU Athletic Director Pat Chun made it very clear why Kiffin was hired.

“Why he emerged, he wanted to be the next head coach at FAU more than anyone we talked to.”

To be the head man, Kiffin is taking a pay cut from the salary he earned as an Alabama assistant. He will earn approximately $1 million plus incentives while he was paid about $1.4 million in Tuscaloosa.

With his previous head coaching experiences on the West Coast ending badly, here is some advice for Kiffin. Should you build FAU into a winner and start receiving offers to take over big-time programs, stay in the East.

California isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

 

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High-flying ‘Noles, road warrior Gators offer entertaining basketball

While their bowl games are still about three weeks away, the athletic departments at both Florida and Florida State each have other quality products to showcase. Each of their men’s basketball teams have something to prove in 2016-17.

At the top of the to-do list is making the NCAA Tournament, something that has eluded both. Florida has missed the Big Dance the last two seasons while Florida State is enduring a four-year drought.

The Gators have been ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 for most of the season. This week, they came in just a few votes behind No. 25 Cincinnati. The Seminoles started the season there, fell out, and then returned this week at No. 23.

What is remarkable is the fact Florida has not played a home game yet this season and will not until December 21. The Stephen C. O’Connell Center is undergoing extensive renovations, forcing the Gators to play their games at other venues.

They have played in Jacksonville, Lakeland, Orlando, Tampa and next week in Sunrise. They played Duke in New York City and had true road games against FSU and North Florida.

On December 21, Florida will unveil what will be known as Exactech Arena at Stephen C. O’Connell Center when Little Rock comes to Gainesville.

After Sunday’s 83-78 loss to FSU in Tallahassee on Sunday, Florida dropped to 7-3. The losses have come against No. 5 Duke, No. 8 Gonzaga and FSU.

“We can sit here and complain about having to play on the road,” said Florida Coach Mike White. “I’m pretty happy we get to play on the road in the fall because that means we are about to move into a beautiful new facility. Also, it gives you advantages, opportunities to grow, to become more cohesive as we’re traveling and coming together.”

White is now in his second year and has some experienced players. Seniors Justin Leon and Kasey Hill are joined by juniors Devin Robinson and John Egbunu. Canyon Berry joins the team as a graduate transfer from the College of Charleston along with highly touted freshman Eric Hester.

On the other hand, Florida State has played eight of their 11 games at home in the Donald L. Tucker Center. Two games were in Brooklyn, NY and one in Washington, DC.

The Seminoles were ranked 25th when they let an 18-point, second half lead get away against Temple. Following Sunday’s close win over the Gators in Tallahassee, FSU stands at 10-1.

FSU Coach Leonard Hamilton is blessed to have some experience and some gifted players on his roster. Sophomore Dwayne Bacon and Freshman Jonathan Isaac are elite talents. Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Terrance Mann add skill and experience in the backcourt.

“We are going to be playing even faster this year,” said Bacon shortly before the season began. “We’ve got guys that can run the floor and the big guys can get up and down.”

While that is true, FSU is paying closer attention to its defense and it is making a difference.

(It should not be forgotten that both schools have outstanding women’s basketball teams as well.)

Florida State opens conference play on December 28 at home against Wake Forest while the Gators open on the road (of course) on December 29 at Arkansas.

The football Seminoles take on Michigan in the Orange Bowl on December 30 while Florida faces Iowa in the Outback Bowl on January 2.

It will then be OK to focus on basketball full time.

 

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Dolphins survive Arizona comeback bid; Ryan Tannehill injured

On a rainy Sunday afternoon in south Florida, the Miami Dolphins were cruising to a victory over the Arizona Cardinals. In the end, Miami would need a last second field goal from Andrew Franks to escape with a 26-23 victory.

The Dolphins bottled up Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson in the first half. Palmer had his worst half as a Cardinal, throwing for only 50 yards.

Miami would take a 21-9 lead and appeared headed for an easy win. As the third quarter wound down, quarterback Ryan Tannehill was hit low by Calais Campbell, injuring his knee. No flag was thrown.

With Tannehill out, Arizona came to life. Palmer led them on a 99-yard scoring drive. When the extra point was blocked, Walt Aikens picked it up and took it to the end zone for two points to make it 23-15.

After a Dolphin punt, Arizona went 50 yards in seven plays, but this time the two-point conversion was good and the game was tied at 23-23.

After exchanging punts late in the fourth quarter, Miami backup quarterback Matt Moore drove his team to the three-yard line. After time nearly expired before getting a timeout, Franks drilled the game-winner.

Before the injury, Tannehill threw for 195 and three touchdowns in the bad weather. Even with the late flurry, Palmer was limited to 145 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

The Miami running game was again limited with Jay Ajayi picking up only 48 yards on 20 carries. Jarvis Landry had 103 yards receiving.

Johnson finished with 80 yards rushing for Arizona while Fitzgerald had only 12 yards receiving.

The Dolphins are hoping they will not personify the old saying about winning the battle, but losing the war. Losing Tannehill would be a jolt to their playoff hopes. More will be known about the severity of his injury on Monday.

With the victory, Miami moves to 8-5 on the season. It is their seventh win in the last eight games.

Next Sunday, they travel to New York to take on the struggling Jets.

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Jaguars good effort still not good enough against Vikings

The Jacksonville Jaguars gave a good effort, but it wasn’t good enough. Despite carrying a lead into the fourth quarter, the Jaguars gave up two touchdowns in the final period to fall to the Minnesota Vikings 25-19.

It was Jacksonville’s eighth consecutive loss. It also marked the first road win for the Vikings since they won at Carolina on September 25.

Perhaps the Jaguars felt destiny was on their side in the fateful fourth quarter. With Minnesota leading 18-16, Matt Asiata fumbled on the one-yard line and it was recovered by Malik Jackson.

The Jaguars went three-and-out and the Vikings drove to the game-clinching touchdown with 2:13 left on a three-yard pass from Sam Bradford to tight end Kyle Rudolph.

For his part, quarterback Blake Bortles had a good day against a good Vikings’ defense. He completed 23 of 37 passes for 257 yards and a touchdown.

Marquise Lee again showed he is becoming an excellent NFL receiver. He caught five passes for 113 yards, including a 39-yard catch-and-run play up the sideline.

While the Jaguars did not commit a turnover, they were flagged 14 times for 114 yards in penalties. On the positive side, they allowed the Vikings to score only twice on five trips to the red zone.

With the loss, the Jaguars fell to 2-11 on the season. To their credit, the players did not act like they were anxious to end the season.

But the reality is, the end of season is three games away. In all likelihood, that also measures the length of time remaining in the Gus Bradley era as head coach.

Next Sunday the Jaguars travel to Houston to take on the Texans.

 

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Miami seeks to end long bowl losing streak in Russell Athletic Bowl

The Russell Athletic Bowl, one of three to be played in Orlando, features two well-known football programs. The five-time national champion Miami Hurricanes of the ACC, will face the West Virginia Mountaineers of the Big 12, ranked 14th in the number of all-time victories in major college football.

The 2016 Hurricanes can be entertaining, but do not resemble the speedy – and brash – teams that won five titles between 1983 and 2001. Miami fans will swear to this day that a sixth title was stolen from them by a highly controversial call against Ohio State in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl.

Since that huge disappointment, the Hurricanes have hovered between an average or mediocre program. Miami has lost six consecutive bowl games, none of which included a New Year’s Six game.

Their last post season victory came in something called the MPC Computers Bowl in 2006, the last season under former coach Larry Coker. Two of those losses came in Orlando in the Russell Athletic Bowl and under the game’s former name, the Champs Sports Bowl.

This year’s team, under first-year coach Mark Richt, may have led the faithful to believe the turnaround was ahead of schedule. The unrealistic optimism was soon replaced by disappointment.

After winning their first four games, the Hurricanes lost the next four. The first loss was a 20-19 heartbreaker to Florida State on October 9.

The fourth loss was inexplicable. Miami figured out a way to somehow lose to a very bad Notre Dame team. Perhaps that was the wakeup call they needed because the Hurricanes picked up the pieces and won their final four games to finish 8-4.

West Virginia enters the game with a record of 10-2. Their only losses came against conference foes Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and all of the offense those two teams bring.

Four of their victories were by four points or less.

West Virginia is ranked 16th in the College Football Playoff rankings. Oklahoma is the only two on the schedule ranked in the Top 25.

Coach Dana Holgorsen is in his sixth season at WVU and holds a record of 46-30.

The Mountaineers have not regularly qualified for bowls, but they make the most of it when they do. Their last bowl appearance was the memorable 2011 Orange Bowl when they hammered Clemson, 70-33. They are currently on a four-bowl winning streak, three of which were New Year’s Six (then known as BCS) bowls.

Will the Hurricanes’ fans make the trip up the Ronald Reagan Florida Turnpike to Orlando? While Miami rooters can at times slip into apathy, the way the season ended may provide the extra incentive to travel with their team

 It is a safe bet plenty will want to escape the winter of Morgantown, West Va. to enjoy Orlando in late December. Mountaineer fans are passionate about their football team.

Miami is a three-point favorite as of Thursday. The game is the only meeting of the bowl season between teams from the ACC and Big 12.

Kickoff is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. December 28 at Camping World Stadium.

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UCF’s long road back features short drive to Cure Bowl

If one looks hard enough, a feel-good story in the world of sports can be found. As bowl season is set to begin next weekend, one needs to look no further than Orlando and the Central Florida Knights.

Last year if someone talked about going bowling and UCF in the same sentence, the conversation would turn toward picking up a spare or rolling a strike. A nightmare 0-12 season in 2015 has turned into a 6-6 season capped off by an appearance in the AutoNation Cure Bowl against Arkansas State.

“We’re thrilled to be in a bowl game,” said first-year Coach Scott Frost. “Our guys have done a lot to earn a chance to play in the post season.”

Only seven teams before the Knights have gone winless in one season and qualified for a bowl game the next While they do not wish to make this a habit, the Knights are the last team to accomplish such a turnaround. They were 0-11 in 2004 and 8-5 in 2005.

The ride to Camping World Stadium will be short for the Knights, but they have already traveled the long road back to respectability. Frost is quite satisfied with the chance to play in Orlando.

“I think it’s wonderful that we get to play right here in the City of Orlando,” he said. “I think it’s going to give us an opportunity to have a lot of fans. I would love to see this team end this season on a good note.”

Hopefully the time off will be good for freshman quarterback McKenzie Milton. After starting strong, he finished the season with only one touchdown pass and five interceptions over his last five games.

Jawon Hamilton and Dontravious Wilson lead a rushing attack that ran for 25 touchdowns. Tre’Quan Smith had more than 800 yards rushing and five touchdowns.

Arkansas State comes in with a 7-5 record. Playing in the Sun Belt Conference, they were 7-1 in conference play.

After opening the season 0-4, the Red Wolves won seven of their last eight games to tie with Appalachian State for the best conference record.

Among their most impressive wins was a 35-3 thrashing of the Troy Trojans on the road. Troy finished 9-3 and is headed to the Dollar General Bowl.

The AutoNation Cure Bowl has a philanthropic side along with football.

“The Cure Bowl stands for something maybe a little more than most, to be a bowl that helps raise awareness and money for breast cancer,” said Frost. “That’s as good a cause as you can find.”

UCF and Arkansas State will go at it beginning at 5:30 p.m. on December 17.

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