Bob Sparks - 7/61 - 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.

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.

 

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.

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.

Tallahassee residency case becomes statewide issue

Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox lives in the City of Tallahassee. While that should not come as man-bites-dog news, it’s not that simple in Florida’s capital.

The residency of the former Tallahassee Mayor and Florida Democratic Party Chair was challenged in court by Dr. Erwin Jackson, a frequent city government and Maddox critic. Maddox maintains two domiciles; a rented home within the city limits and another larger residence outside the city, which he owns.

The home outside the city limits was put on the market in 2012 while Maddox was a candidate for the Commission and was put on the market again as he sought re-election this year. Jackson points to that and questions other indicators he says makes the case Maddox lives in the home outside the district.

Second Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ruled in Maddox’s favor on three occasions only to be overruled and scolded for “abuse of discretion” by a three-judge panel of the First District Court of Appeal (DCA). After Dodson had recused himself, colleague Karen Gievers drew the short straw and was assigned the case.

In her 28-page ruling, Gievers said Jackson “has offered neither documents or testimony that establish Maddox’s legal residency on August 30, 2016, at the time of the election was somewhere other than the North Adams Street (city) address.”

She further ruled the “overwhelming credible evidence” shows Maddox lives in the city and that he did not try to “game the system.”

Gievers addressed several questions posed by Jackson and his legal team. Among those were the registrations of vehicles registered to Maddox using the county address between 2000 and 2015.

All eight were changed to the downtown address during calendar year 2016. Gievers admitted the registration changes were “not as timely as the statutes provide,” but that fact still does not prove residence on a particular date.

For the record, Maddox is registered to vote in Precinct 1302 according to the Leon County Supervisor of Elections. His rented home in the city is within that precinct, allowing him to answer in the affirmative whether he voted for himself.

The DCA had given a deadline of December 6 for the lower court to make a ruling. Unless they find some procedural error, this should put the Maddox residency matter to rest.

But there is one other matter still percolating within the legal system. The City of Tallahassee has asked the Florida Supreme Court to overrule the DCA hold that local governments should have the final say on residency.

The DCA held the Tallahassee City Charter is subservient to state law, but local governments wish to protect their autonomy to decide who meets the criteria established by their respective charters.

This is a big deal to them. When I published the first article on this topic, I heard from a former Jackson County Commissioner in total agreement with the City’s position.

On Monday, the Florida League of Cities, representing more than 400 communities around the state, turned this into a statewide matter. They, too, are asking for the Florida Supreme Court to weigh in.

“The League’s membership has a significant interest in the question before the Court in this proceeding,” they wrote in their filing document. “The governing documents of many of the League’s members contain provisions that, like the provision at issue here, authorize municipal councils and commissions to be the judges of the election and qualification of their members.”

Jackson and his legal team responded on Friday while Maddox and the City responded to the Supreme Court on Monday.

No matter whose side one takes in Jackson v. Maddox, it is probably a good thing to have some clarification. There are good reasons for the communities to set their own standards. There are also good reasons to be on the lookout for circumstances where the Establishment is protecting its own.

Merry Christmas from Tallahassee or Leon County, whichever applies.

LSU, Louisville happy to be playing in Citrus Bowl

Several fascinating matchups are in store for the 2016-17 bowl season. The Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl at Camping World Stadium in Orlando is certainly one of them.

The LSU Tigers are among college football’s most prestigious programs over time while the Louisville Cardinals are on the verge of joining elite status through recent success. Both have big name players.

This game is expected to feature the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson is the favorite to win the award, which will be announced on Saturday.

Someone that passes for 3,390 yards and 30 touchdowns along with rushing for 1,538 yards and 20 touchdowns has a pretty good shot at winning.

LSU has running back Leonard Fournette, who was expected to be a Heisman contender, but had a subpar year by his standards. Any falloff was more than compensated by Derrius Guice, who will challenge the Cardinal defense with his enormous skills.

“We are so excited to be able to play a great Louisville team that has a great player in Lamar Jackson,” said LSU Coach Ed Orgeron. “They are very well coached by Coach (Bobby) Petrino and his staff. What a great opportunity for our team.”

It will be extra special for Orgeron because it will be his first game as the Tigers’ Head Coach. After becoming interim coach after the firing of Les Miles, Orgeron was given the job full time on November 26.

Petrino and the Cardinals are looking to make a season-ending statement after losing their last two games, including a 41-38 shocker against Kentucky. They were a far cry at the end of the season from what they were when they torched Florida State by 43 points.

Louisville’s Athletic Director, Tom Jurich, made the Orlando tourism officials very happy with their school’s acceptance of the bid.

“Orlando is an outstanding destination for our players, staff and families, as well as our fans,” said Jurich. “It’s a great reward for our program and fans for an outstanding season.”

Will both teams bring strong traveling parties?

LSU always travels well and is expected to use up their allotment of 10,000 tickets and likely ask for more. Louisville fans may use their allotment as well. Six weeks ago they were hoping to play in the College Football Playoffs, but a New Year’s Six bowl is an adequate substitute.

Game officials and ABC executives hope this will be a much better game than last year. Michigan defeated Florida 41-7.

Kickoff is 11:00 a.m. on New Year’s Eve.

Jaguars latest loss fuels rumors of a Tom Coughlin encore

It is hard to imagine one team holding another to 206 yards of total offense, yet still lose the game. Somehow the Jacksonville Jaguars were able to pull off that improbability, losing to the Denver Broncos 20-10 on Sunday at EverBank Field.

Denver could manage only 102 passing yards and 104 yards rushing, but found ways to score enough to take the victory. Jaguars’ Quarterback Blake Bortles tossed two interceptions, one of which was a 51-yard return for a “pick-six” by Bradley Roby.

Rookie Paxton Lynch made his first NFL start for the Broncos after regular quarterback Trevor Siemian suffered an ankle injury in last week’s overtime loss to Kansas City. The game plan was obviously made simple for the rookie as his longest completion of the day was for only 10 yards.

The Jaguars’ rushing game was actually effective on Sunday, totaling 154 yards on the ground, one of their best days of the season. Unfortunately, Bortles had a dreadful game, completing only 19 of 42 passes for 181 yards and no touchdowns.

Sunday’s loss was the seventh straight for the Jaguars. Their 2-10 record now puts them behind only 0-12 Cleveland and 1-11 San Francisco for the NFL’s worst record.

Coach Gus Bradley must wonder what he can do to make his team more competitive. Most of the problems lie with a painfully struggling offense.

Sunday’s defensive effort was noteworthy, but still nowhere near enough to get a win. With Minnesota, Houston, Tennessee and Indianapolis remaining on the schedule, a 2-14 finish is a very real possibility.

Owner Shahid Khan is not going to tolerate another season like this. Reports are circulating that Tom Coughlin, who won two Super Bowls with the Giants, could return to the Jaguars after serving as their first coach.

He still owns a home in Jacksonville and is reportedly open to the thought of an encore performance.

In the meantime, the Jaguars will play out the string.

 

Ravens answer to Dolphins’ winning streak: “Never more”

The Miami Dolphins had been riding high on a six-game winning streak before traveling to Baltimore for Sunday’s game. With all due apologies to Edgar Allan Poe, “Quoth the Ravens, nevermore.”

Miami was buried by the Ravens, 38-6 ending their winning streak and making them look as they did earlier in the season. The Dolphins looked like fish out water as their running game was nearly non-existent and quarterback Ryan Tannehill suffered three interceptions.

Baltimore, on the other hand, was clicking from the opening kickoff. Their first two possessions ended in touchdown drives of 80 and 63 yards. They never looked back building a halftime lead of 24-0.

The Ravens were imposing their will on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Joe Flacco threw for 381 yards and four touchdowns. The Miami defense had no sacks and did not make a single tackle for loss the entire game.

Jay Ajayi, who had back-to-back 200-yard rushing games during the streak, was held to only 61 yards on 12 carries. It marked the fourth straight game he has been held under 80 yards.

To be fair, part of the reason behind Ajayi’s day was the necessity of leaning heavily on the pass once Miami fell so far behind.

It is difficult to find a positive for this game, other than the fact it is only one game. As Poe said in The Raven, “That it is and nothing more.”

Despite the loss, Miami (7-5) is still in the playoff picture. Next Sunday the final quarter of the season begins when they host Carson Palmer and the Arizona Cardinals.

Penn State makes case for playoffs; Florida bowls nearly set

With Penn State’s thrilling 38-31 come-from-behind victory over Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship Game on Saturday, the controversy over who gets the fourth spot in the College Football Playoffs (CFP) has already begun. While the four teams will be announced on Sunday, the debate will linger through the new year, no matter what happens.

Most are expecting the Nittany Lions (11-2) to head to the Rose Bowl to face Colorado with Wisconsin playing in the Cotton Bowl against Western Michigan of the Mid-American Conference. However, plenty believe Penn State should get the fourth CFP spot over Ohio State and they have some sound reasoning to back up the claim.

The Nittany Lions are the champions of a Power Five conference while Ohio State was unable to even reach the title game. The Buckeyes (11-1) were denied that opportunity when they lost to Penn State on October 23.

The job of the CFP selection committee would have been much easier if Clemson had lost to Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game in Orlando. Despite a spirited comeback, the Hokies fell just short, 42-35, locking in the Tigers for one of the four spots.

If Penn State somehow earns the selection to the playoffs, Ohio State would head to Pasadena, Calif. for the Rose Bowl. No matter what happens, one side or the other will believe they were robbed.

If Ohio State is selected, calls to change the rules will begin Sunday afternoon. More than a few hold the belief that CFP participants must be conference champions.

Saturday began with even more uncertainty surrounding bowls. There was concern that if Navy won the American Athletic Conference championship, several bowl assignments would be delayed while waiting to see if Navy could qualify for the Cotton Bowl bid. Temple’s 34-10 defeat of the Midshipmen in the American Conference Championship Game ended that concern.

With Saturday’s results, Florida’s nine bowls are now taking shape. While the projections are just that, the matchups are likely set.

Florida is expected to play Nebraska in the Outback Bowl while Florida State and Michigan are pointed toward an Orange Bowl showdown. Georgia Tech and Tennessee look to tangle in Jacksonville’s TaxSlayer Bowl and LSU is expected to come to Orlando to face Louisville in the Citrus Bowl.

Miami and West Virginia will meet in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando while Houston and Western Kentucky are slated for the Boca Raton Bowl. Houston was a top 15 team at one point before hitting a late-season tailspin.

South Florida is likely to remain close to home in the St. Petersburg Bowl to face Army. UCF will also remain near its fan base where it will face South Alabama in the Cure Bowl. Memphis and Central Michigan will play in the Miami Beach Bowl.

It promises to be an interesting Sunday afternoon in college football.

Temple wins American title; USF wonders what might have been

Temple’s 34-10 victory over No. 19 Navy in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game on Saturday settled a few things. The most obvious was the Owls’ status as the top team in the league.

With that in mind, the South Florida Bulls have every right to claim they are 1a. Both USF and Temple beat the Midshipmen this season. Navy lost to the Bulls 52-45 in Tampa on October 29.

While Temple comes away with the American championship, they were one play away from not even qualifying for the game. University of Central Florida fans remember that play all too well.

UCF led Temple 25-20 on October 15 when the Owls took possession on their own 30 with only 32 seconds remaining and only one timeout. Phillip Walker connected with Keith Kirkwood for the winning score as time was expiring.

Without those heroics, it would have been USF playing Navy on Saturday. As it was, USF and Temple finished 7-1 in the conference. The Owls advanced to the championship by virtue of their 46-30 victory over the Bulls in Philadelphia on October 21.

The other clarifying act involves the bowl picture. Going into the game, Navy had the opportunity to muddle up the bowl picture for at least another week.

Had they won, Navy had a shot at the Cotton Bowl, but their status would not have been determined until next week’s rivalry game against Army. Games such as the Miami Beach Bowl, Boca Raton Bowl, the St. Petersburg Bowl and the AutoNation Cure Bowl in Orlando could have been affected.

Now, the Western Michigan Broncos of the Mid-American Conference are expected to get the Cotton Bowl bid that Navy was seeking. The bowl assignments should be announced as scheduled tomorrow.

USF is likely to go to the Birmingham Bowl on December 29 while UCF is expected to receive a bid to play in Miami Beach on December 19.

 

Grapefruit League, World Baseball Classic highlights 2017 Spring Training

The World Series ended just over one month ago, but baseball junkies have something for which to look forward. Real junkies are counting the days until pitchers and catchers report to Florida (or Arizona) for spring training.

For those counting, it is a little over 70 days, depending on the particular team.

When that happens, it is time to look forward to Grapefruit League games spread around the state. The schedule reveals tourists and locals will have more talent than usual to see in 2017.

The 15 major league teams training in Florida will play a total of 251 games against each other around the state. In addition, the semi-annual World Baseball Classic will also visit Florida for early round matchups as well as exhibition games with major league teams.

Games begin on February 23 with Florida Southern facing Detroit in Lakeland and the University of Tampa playing Philadelphia in Clearwater. Spring Training wraps up April 1.

A few things are different for 2017. As Florida’s Major League tenants look for a more compact Grapefruit League, some movement has occurred.

The Washington Nationals have left Viera and are moving into the state’s newest facility, The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Joining them are the Houston Astros, who vacated Kissimmee. The Detroit Tigers will be playing in the new-and-improved Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium.

“The Florida Grapefruit League experience at a Major League Spring Training game is one of the best sports experiences around,” John Webb, President of the Florida Sports Foundation said in a release. “There is something for everyone in the family at all of the ballparks in Florida. It makes for a great family vacation.”

The World Baseball Classic, featuring 16 teams from around the globe, will have four of those teams in Miami between March 9 and 13. In addition to the WBC games at Marlins Park, the United States, Canada, Dominican Republic and Colombia will also play exhibitions in Florida cities.

Among the highlights are games between Canada and the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin on March 7 and the New York Yankees in Tampa on March 8. Also on March 8, the USA plays Minnesota in Fort Myers, the Dominican Republic plays Pittsburgh in Bradenton and Colombia visits Port Charlotte to face the Rays.

The USA’s final WBC tune-up is in Fort Myers on March 9 when they play the Boston Red Sox.

According to the Florida Sports Foundation, more than 26 million fans have attended Florida Spring Training games since 2000. Each year, spring baseball provides a $753 million economic impact to the state.

 

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