Bob Sparks - 5/57 - 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.

USF crashes AP Top 25; Seminoles 12th, Gators 15th

For the first time in several weeks, three Florida teams are in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. Florida and Florida State have been included every week, but now the South Florida Bulls have joined the club.

USF is the 24th ranked team in the country according to AP. With Saturday’s victory over Central Florida, the Bulls finished the season at 10-2.

The 10 wins are the most in a season in USF history and the Bulls are ranked in the top 25 for the first time since week six of the 2011 season. Their only losses came against Temple and Florida State.

The Seminoles improved from 15th to 12th this week following Saturday’s 31-13 win over the Florida Gators. Florida State was ranked as high as second this season before the huge loss to Louisville. Following their shocking loss to Kentucky, the Cardinals are now ranked behind FSU at No. 16.

Florida fell only two spots to 15th with the loss to FSU. The Gators were ranked as high as tenth earlier this season.

Florida State and South Florida have only their bowl games remaining while Florida must play top-ranked Alabama in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday, followed by their bowl game.

The Crimson Tide is again a unanimous selection at number one, earning all 61 first place votes. Ohio State, Clemson, Washington and Michigan round out the top five.

In addition to USF, the American Conference has Navy in the top 25, who is ranked 20th. The Bulls beat the Midshipmen on October 29, but the voters were apparently impressed by Navy scoring 75 and 66 points the past two weeks.

While Alabama is clearly the top team, the SEC is falling on hard times. The league once had eight teams in the top 25, but only four this week. LSU and Auburn are the other two.

The ACC, who argues they are equal to the SEC from top to bottom, placed five teams in the top 25. The Big 10 placed the most teams with six, followed by the Pac 12 with four, the Big 12 with three, the American with two and the Mid-American with one.

Western Michigan of the Mid-American is the only other unbeaten FBS/Division I team. The 12-0 Broncos are ranked 13th.

The four College Football Playoff teams will be selected next Sunday. Two of those four will be in Tampa on January 9 for the national championship game.

The Top 25 poll is here.

 

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FAU’s 77-56 loss to Middle Tennessee leaves many questions

Florida Atlantic’s long season came to an end on Saturday in Murfreesboro, Tenn. on Saturday in the most inglorious of fashions. The Owls surrendered 77 points to the Blue Raiders in a 77-56 stinker.

FAU surrendered 495 rushing yards on the day. I’Tavius Mathers and Richie James both rushed for more than 200 yards and each scored three touchdowns. James also had 120 receiving yards and a touchdown.

If there is a bright spot, it was the running of freshman back Devin Singletary, who rushed for 35 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Jacob Driskel threw for 291 yards and two touchdowns, but also threw three interceptions. One was returned for 20 yards and a touchdown by D.J. Sanders.

This must be an unsettling time for Owls’ Coach Charlie Partridge. Today he completed his third season at FAU and all three have ended with 3-9 records.

This is the first time FAU has endured three consecutive losing seasons.

It is not just the record, but the way it ended. Middle Tennessee is a good offense, scoring more than 40 points in nine of their 12 games. But Saturday’s fiasco is humiliating.

Saturday’s output was a full three touchdowns better than any previous game they played the entire season. He will certainly have to present a sound plan for going forward to Athletic Director Pat Chun.

If Partridge returns, he will have key players returning like Singletary, Driskel, running back Gregory Howell, Jr. and receivers like Kalib Woods in addition to others. Saturday’s game shows there are a number of defensive holes to fill.

Before looking toward next season, the Owls must identify their problems and come up with a plan to fix them. Another 3-9 season will not be acceptable to fans as well as the university.

Today’s offensive output of 56 points is the most in the Partridge era. Somehow that does not soothe the bruised psyche of the Owls’ program.

Some decisions will be made in fairly short order in the coming days.

 

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After season-ending loss, FIU looks to 2017

Things started miserably this season for the Florida International Panthers. After an 0-4 start, Coach Ron Turner was let go and replaced by Defensive Coordinator Ron Cooper on an interim basis.

Cooper coached his final game on Saturday, a 42-28 loss at Old Dominion. Despite the setback, there are some positive things to point toward in 2017.

After the rough beginning, the Panthers responded to Cooper, winning their next three games. Saturday’s loss left him with a 4-4 record in his eight games. FIU finished the season at 4-8.

Two weeks ago, FIU hired former Miami and North Carolina Coach Butch Davis for next season. Cooper will likely not be part of Davis’s staff for next season, but that is not for certain. What is certain is that Davis will bring in some of his most trusted assistants to implement his offensive and defensive philosophy.

Saturday’s loss to the Monarchs reveals some of the things they will need to work on to improve on this year’s 3-8 record. It all begins at quarterback for an offense ranked 77th in Division I.

Alex McGough, who missed the final three games with an injury, is likely to go into spring practice as number one. He will be a senior and with the exception of far too many critical interceptions, played reasonably well, throwing for 1,900 yards with 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Battling for number two and three on the depth chart with be Christian Alexander and Maurice Alexander. They are not related, but what they do have in common, besides their last name, is their youth. Both are freshmen.

Both stepped in to replace McGough with Maurice receiving the most playing time. Maurice had two touchdown passes and six interceptions, including one of each on Saturday.

Christian threw 4 TD passes without an interception in his brief appearances under center.  Maurice had 1 TD and 5 INTs

Leading rusher Alex Gardner, who ran for 877 yards, is a junior. He had five 100-yard rushing games. Sophomore Anthony Jones had more than 500 yards on the ground and averaged five yards per carry.

The receiving core of Thomas Owens, Stantley Thomas and A.J. Branisel will return. Someone will need to step up to replace senior Jonnu Smith.

The defense, ranked 84th in Division I, will be a priority for Davis and his staff. Even if improvements come in increments, any improvement should have them playing competitively in Conference USA.

With 6-6 teams qualifying for bowls, that is not an unreachable goal for FIU in 2017. Two more wins next year will make them bowl-eligible.

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Wizards start strong, hold on to beat Magic

The Orlando Magic worked hard and made some key plays in the middle portion of the game on Friday night, but the Washington Wizards did them one better. After jumping out to a 19-point lead, Washington was able to hand on and hand the Magic a 94-91 loss at the Amway Center.

Nine minutes into the game, Orlando was down 26-7 and risked being run out of their own building. The Wizards, who had not played since Monday, were imposing their will on both ends of the court.

By halftime, the Magic had the lead down to 10 and displayed a greater sense of urgency. Coach Frank Vogel was critical of his team’s early effort, singling out point guard Elfrid Payton for “walking the ball up the court.” In the first half.

Vogel indicated Payton responded to the “coaching” he received, as did the rest of the team. A strong start to the second half sent the Magic into the fourth quarter trailing only 72-68.

Orlando made it all the way back and actually led 80-76 with 6:22 remaining. However, Wizards’ all-star guard John Wall made some big plays in the final two minutes that helped his team pull out the victory.

“He’s an elite offensive player,” said Vogel. “It is tough to keep him out of the lane and he can find people in the corner for open threes.”

Wall had 26 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, while Otto Porter added 19 and former Florida Gator Bradley Beal had 14.

Perhaps the energy needed to come back from such a deficit left the Magic low on fuel coming down the stretch. While D.J. Augustin made two key shots in the closing minutes, his teammates were mostly off the mark.

“We can’t get down early in the game by not doing what we’ve been preaching and not doing what we’re supposed to do,” said Vogel. “That’s what the first quarter looked like and I’m disappointed in our guys for that; it got us down. To their credit, we battled back and gave us a chance.”

He punctuated his disappointment with a concluding “We can’t get down 19.”

Nikola Vucevic had a huge game for Orlando with 17 points and 17 rebounds. Unfortunately, he did not touch the ball very often down the stretch. After a rough patch, it was Vucevic’s second straight strong game.

Serge Ibaka had 19 points, eight rebounds and four blocks while Payton had 15. The Magic shot it better than they have in recent games, finishing at 44 percent.

The good shooting was partially offset by 19 turnovers.

The victory was Washington’s first on the road this season after five straight losses. They are now 5-9 on the season.

Orlando suffered its third straight loss and slipped to 6-10 on the season. They will try to get back on the winnings side on Sunday night when they host the Milwaukee Bucks, who beat the Magic 93-89 in Milwaukee on Monday.

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Magic suffer disappointing loss to Suns

The Phoenix Suns have not won many games, especially on the road. On Wednesday night, however, they improved on both percentages when they beat the Orlando Magic 92-87 at the Amway Center.

Phoenix won for only the fifth time in 16 games and improved their road record to 3-8. They were also playing their sixth consecutive road game, disposing of the thought the Suns might have been out of gas for this one.

In the end, they had plenty of fuel.

Orlando seemed to be in catch up mode for much of the game. After the Suns took a 12-point lead in the second quarter, the Magic fought back to trail by only 44-42 at half time.

After an even third quarter, the Suns took an 85-78 lead with 2:11 remaining. While the Magic made one last run to get within 88-85, Phoenix had enough left in the tank to hold on for the win.

If there was any good news, it was the strong play of Nikola Vucevic, who looked like the player the Magic are accustomed to seeing on a regular basis. He had a strong double-double with 21 points and 13 rebounds. Evan Fournier, Orlando’s most consistent player this year, had 25 points to lead the Magic.

It was not a great night for other starters. Serge Ibaka and Jeff Green combined for only eight points. Bismack Biyombo collected seven rebounds off the bench, but was scoreless. None of the three were on the court as the Magic made their last push.

Offense continues to be a problem. Through the first 14 games, Orlando has scored 100 points only four times.

Shooting has been the main culprit and Wednesday night provided yet another example. The Magic shot only 36 percent from the field and only 28 percent from three-point range.

“We didn’t have a great flow and we had several possessions where we created a good shot,but didn’t knock it down,” said Magic Coach Frank Vogel.

Prior to Wednesday’s game, Phoenix had held only one team under 100 points. The Magic’s effort marks the fewest points against the Suns this season.

Defensively, the Magic held Phoenix to their lowest point total of the season. The Suns average 110 points per game, but Wednesday’s game was only the third time they had not scored 100 and marked their lowest output of the year.

“We’re doing what we need to do on the defensive end,” said Vogel. “We just have to make some shots and find a better offensive rhythm.”

The Magic host the Washington Wizards on Friday night in the second game of a three-game home stand.

 

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Critic hits Leon County’s Scott Maddox right where he lives

Former Florida Democratic Party Chairman and statewide office candidate Scott Maddox is involved in another political fight this Thanksgiving season. Though elected to another term on the Tallahassee City Commission, he was blocked from taking the oath of office earlier this week.

Maddox, who served as FDP Chairman from 2003-2006, is facing a legal challenge to his official residency. The question going back and forth through the Leon County courts and the First District Court of Appeal (DCA) is whether Maddox officially lives within the city limits of Tallahassee, a fundamental requirement of the city’s charter.

Similar complaints about residency crop up around the state from time to time, usually among candidates whose district lines were re-drawn putting them outside their district. Nothing usually comes of these other than news stories, but Maddox is facing a persistent local critic in Dr. Erwin Jackson.

Jackson filed suit in the Second Judicial Circuit in September claiming Maddox is ineligible to serve because he actually lives outside the city limits. According to the filing document, Maddox, an attorney, lists his residence as a rented office building in downtown Tallahassee.

“This is a frivolous lawsuit brought by Erwin Jackson on his third attempt to discredit me,” said Maddox, who was the Democratic nominee for Commissioner of Agriculture in 2010. “This one will be thrown out like all of the others have been.”

The City of Tallahassee intervened and asked that they, Maddox’s colleagues, have the final say in determining his eligibility. Judge Charles Dodson agreed.

Jackson went to the DCA, where a three-judge panel unanimously reversed Dodson, saying “the proper forum for Jackson’s post-election contest is in the circuit court.”

The three-judge panel consisted of Charlie Crist appointee Lori Rowe, a former Executive Deputy Attorney General; Rick Scott appointee Scott Makar, a former Florida Solicitor General; and another Scott appointee, Susan Kelsey, an experienced appellate lawyer.

Dodson did not appear to take the reversal well. The DCA order to Dodson to hold a hearing used the term “immediate” before the word hearing.

He took them literally. Dodson held a hearing almost immediately and ruled in favor of Maddox. Jackson and his legal team were outraged by the fact they had little time to prepare.

This is “a miscarriage of justice,” Jackson said. “An appeal will be immediately forthcoming.”

Again, the DCA overruled Dodson, this time with a bit of a hand slap. The judges said the lower court “abused its discretion” in the way it handled the hearing.

Monday was swearing in day for the Commission and Dodson gave the go-ahead for Maddox to take the oath of office pending the residency review. The DCA stepped in by again overruling Dodson and blocking Maddox from taking the oath of office “pending further order from this Court.”

Jackson is also seeking the removal of Dodson from the case. To be reversed three times on the same case, called a hat trick in hockey, is not a good thing.

The parties are now arguing the date on which a public official is eligible. Jackson argues legal residence means Election Day, which in this case was August. The Maddox team argues November 21, or swearing in day.

To a non-lawyer observer, like this writer, that would seem to acknowledge there could be a problem if you are arguing “when” as well as “if.”

To be fair, Jackson is a relentless critic of city government. Sometimes they deserve the scrutiny, like the recent proposal to raise property taxes by 27 percent.

Maddox, to his great credit, was an opponent of the outrageous property tax plan and argued against other increases. He sounded like a conservative.

At the same time, it is understandable for elected officials to become frustrated, especially if they truly believe they are doing the right thing.

Maddox remains confident, perhaps with good reason, he will prevail. The residency challenges usually go in the favor of the candidate.

Jackson certainly isn’t going away, whether or not Dodson is relieved of command. He is 100 percent certain he has a case.

Stranger things have happened as this year’s elections demonstrated.

We will know soon.

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Newest Magic players begin to find their stride

When the Orlando Magic lost six of their first nine games to start the season, Coach Frank Vogel would hear the usual questions. What’s wrong with the offense? Is there an ongoing problem with intensity?

Another expected question was the one about team chemistry. With three new players and a new coach, is this team coming together?

Let’s answer the last one first. The new players did need some time to come together and get used to their new surroundings and teammates.

The Magic’s marquee trade involved the acquisition of Serge Ibaka from Oklahoma City for Victor Oladipo. Through the first nine games, Ibaka was OK, but not the kind of scorer and rim protector he is known to be.

Bismack Biyombo was heralded as a tireless worker, who will defend and rebound with intensity as well as score a few points. He has met and exceeded expectations since coming over from Toronto.

D.J. Augustin was known as a smart player with a reputation for a good shooting touch in several NBA stops. He too has met expectations to this point.

When the Magic went to Oklahoma City Nov. 14, they stood at 3-6 and were on a three-game losing streak. But on this night, they upset the Thunder 119-117 with Ibaka breaking the hearts of his former fans with the game-winning shot at the buzzer.

While his production in Orlando had been measured with his consistently strong presence in Oklahoma City, he never played a game quite like the one he did for the Magic that night. He poured in 31 points, had nine rebounds, and four blocked shots.

That seemed to be a turning point, because over the last five games he has been outstanding. He is averaging 17.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and two blocked shots. Ibaka’s scoring average has risen to 14.4 points.

Biyombo has picked up his scoring pace, averaging nine points over the last five games, including 13-point performances in his last two. He has averaged nine rebounds and nearly two blocks per game over the same span. Biyombo’s scoring average has risen to 5.7 points, but he was never expected to be a big scorer, focusing instead on keeping the other team from scoring.

“Bismack Biyombo is a great player and he’s showing it,” said Vogel. “He’s just a defensive force.”

Augustin has been consistent throughout the first 14 games, averaging 9.4 points.

The success of these new Magicians is beginning to show on the scoreboard. After that 3-6 start, Orlando has won three of their last five games. Vogel is not concerned with their 6-8 record.

“We’re actually not looking at the standings right now,” said Vogel. “We are focused on gelling and improving while getting wins.”

Vogel was complimentary of the entire team’s defensive and rebounding effort. As the newer members continue to gel, other starters like Evan Fournier and Elfrid Payton are needed to keep up their contributions from the guard position.

At least two additional opportunities for improvement exist. Nikola Vucevic is expected to regain his outside shooting touch, which will make a big difference.

Also, former top draft choice Mario Hezonja is not even in the playing rotation. He is too talented to not even be able to earn his way onto the floor. If he can regain his confidence, he can add another component coming off the bench.

The Magic seek to continue their improvement on Wednesday night when the Phoenix Suns come to Amway Center.

 

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Giannis Antetokounmpo’s triple double leads Bucks over Magic

In a back-and-forth game, the Milwaukee Bucks came away with a 93-89 win over the Orlando Magic on Monday night in Milwaukee. Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with a triple double as Milwaukee overcame a fourth quarter deficit to earn the victory.

Antetokounmpo had 21 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds for the Bucks while Jabari Parker chipped in 22 points for the victors. Serge Ibaka led Orlando with 21 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Bismack Biyombo contributed a double double off the bench for the Magic.

The Magic got off to a quick start, leading 16-2 in the first period. Milwaukee had a big second quarter to take a five-point lead at halftime.

Orlando came out quickly in the third quarter, outscoring the Bucks 30-20 to take a 74-69 lead into the final period. Their 24-15 advantage in the final quarter was good enough to secure the win.

Milwaukee’s pressure defense looks to create turnovers and they were successful on Monday. Orlando turned the ball over 24 times, leading to some easy baskets. Milwaukee committed only 13.

Evan Fournier had 18 points for the Magic and Biyombo had 13 points and 11 rebounds. Nikola Vucevic had another cold shooting night, making only four of 12 shots for eight points. He had 11 rebounds.

The Magic (6-8) return home to host the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night at the Amway Center.

 

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Dolphins wake up in fourth quarter to beat Rams

For those who missed the first three quarters of Sunday’s game between the Miami Dolphins and the Los Angeles Rams, good for you. That especially goes for the Dolphins’ fans.

But if you missed the last half of the fourth quarter, you missed something that has never happened before. Miami, who had done nothing in the first half of the game, marched to two touchdowns in the closing minutes to erase a 10-0 deficit and pull out a 14-10 victory.

In the 50-year history of the Dolphins, they had been shut out in the first three quarters 31 times. Their record in those games was 0-31.

They are now 1-31.

Miami was the poster child of offensive futility for most of the game. They had six three-and-outs on offense.

Among their first 10 possessions were nine punts and an interception. Midway through the fourth quarter, Dolphins’ quarterback Ryan Tannehill had 57 yards passing.

With 6:38 remaining, Miami took over on their own 23. A little more than two minutes later, Tannehill hit Jarvis Landry with a 10-yard scoring pass to cut the deficit to 10-7. After a three-and-out by Los Angeles, the Dolphins took over with 2:11 left on the clock and 75 yards away from the goal line.

No problem.

With a suddenly accurate Tannehill spreading the ball around, and the assistance of a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty, DeVante Parker caught the nine-yard, game-winning touchdown pass with only 36 seconds remaining.

Miami had 240 yards of total offense for the game, with 152 of those coming in the final two possessions. Tannehill wound up with 172 yards passing and the two touchdowns.

The Rams held Jay Ajayi to only 77 yards rushing, while his Los Angeles counterpart Todd Gurley had only 76. The most active players seemed to be Matt Darr and Johnny Hekker, the punters for both teams. Darr punted 10 times and Hekker kicked it away eight times.

This game started out as something highly forgettable, but turned into something unforgettable. It says a lot about the coaching style of first-year Coach Adam Gase. Sunday’s game seems to prove he has instilled a MAD Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman-style of confidence in his team.

“What, me worry?”

With the way the game played out, Gase was not even sure what, or how, it happened.

“I don’t even know,” he said. “Just nothing was going right for us. We were terrible on offense.”

When it was crunch time, the Dolphins sucked it up and came away with a win. After starting 1-4, the Dolphins have now won five straight games and are squarely in the AFC playoff race.

Next Sunday they host the woeful San Francisco 49ers at Hard Rock Stadium.

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Jags lose another close one as Lions prevail

Once again the Jacksonville Jaguars had a chance to win a game, but once again it was the other team making the plays needed to win. The Detroit Lions scored two non-offensive touchdowns and made a fourth quarter comeback to beat Jacksonville 26-19 at Ford Field on Sunday.

The Jaguars defense showed up to play and they deserved a better fate. Detroit was able to manage only 14 rushing yards all day and they sacked Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford three times.

The defense also had 10 tackles for loss and did not give up a TD pass all day.

So how did the Jags manage to lose this one? It happened a number of ways.

The first culprit was special teams. With the Jaguars leading 3-0 early in the second period, Andre Roberts fielded a Brad Nortman punt at the Detroit 45, and then bobbed and weaved his way into the end zone for the Lions’ go-ahead touchdown.

After a 9-9 halftime tie, the Jaguars had the chance to go ahead on the opening possession of the second half. On the third play, quarterback Blake Bortles was picked off by Rafael Bush, who took it 39 yards for a touchdown to give Detroit a 16-9 lead.

To their credit, the Jaguars hung in, scoring on their next two possessions. Jason Myers kicked a 52-yard field goal followed by a nine-play, 87-yard touchdown drive to regain the lead at 19-16.

For as well as the defense played, they needed one more play to perhaps comes away with a win. But Stafford connected with Eric Ebron on a 61-yard pass play on third and 13 in the fourth quarter to set up the go-ahead touchdown, also caught by Ebron.

Marquise Lee gave the Jags a chance by returning the ensuing kickoff to the 44-yard line, but after a three-and-out, their chance at victory slipped away.

“Hard-fought game. Give credit to Detroit,” said Jaguars Coach Gus Bradley. “They made more plays than we did. They made more BIG plays. I thought our guys played hard all four quarters.”

Bortles threw for 202 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Chris Ivory led Jaguars rushers with 39 yards and receivers with 75 yards. Lee and Allen Robinson caught touchdown passes.

The defense also broke a long drought. They had not forced a turnover since the victory over Indianapolis in London, but recovered two Detroit fumbles on the day.

With the loss, Jacksonville has now lost five games in a row to fall to 2-8 on the season. Next week they head to Buffalo to face the Bills, one of the NFL’s leading rushing teams.

 

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