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When it comes to the Lightning, have you heard this before?

Groundhog day, and the Tampa Bay Lightning are repeating themselves.

Check out Thursday night’s 5-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators. They started with a lead. They fell behind. They got off only 21 shots. And they lost their second game in a four-game home stand (and third overall)  that was supposed to turn all of this around.

“What did Punxsutawney Phil say?” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. He was told six more weeks of winter. “Let’s hope not,” he said.

Things are cold enough for the Lightning, who fell to 22-24-6 with the loss. They lead only Detroit, by only one point, in the Eastern Conference.

“This group’s never been through this before,” Cooper said. “It’s kind of uncharted territory for them. A lot of guys are used to winning a lot. It tests you a little bit. Maybe in other times we’ve had this, but we’ve found a way to fight through it. Right now, it’s tough. Every time we start talking a step forward, we take two back.

“Maybe in the past, we knew something good was going to happen. We were going to work our way through. Now they’re waiting for something bad to happen. That’s the part you have to get over.

The Bolts have obviously been affected by the losing streak.

“It’s tough to describe really,” said Brian Boyle. “We’re just banging our heads against the wall right now. We’re trying to fix things. We’re putting a lot of effort into it. A lot of people are putting their time and effort into it. For whatever reason, we’re not executing.”

“I believe there’s 30 games left, so we can’t have that attitude that were being kicked while we’re down because I don’t think any other team is feeling sorry for us right now, that is going to give us a charity win along the way here. Every game is going to be like this, and whether we know it or not, it’s been like this in the past.”

Tampa Bay plays host to Anaheim Saturday night.

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The five recruits who could help the state’s three football powers

The freshman year is no longer for a football player to learn his way around campus.

There is no more time for growth, no more time for learning. There is no more apprenticeship.

These days, the best players play as freshmen, or redshirt freshman. They start as sophomores, and they star as juniors. These days, a player learns how to say hello.

Given that, who are each team’s five players most likely to make a first-year impression. According to 247sports.com, FSU finished sixth in recruiting, Florida 10th and Miami 13th.

FSU

1. Cam Akers, running back: Akers could conceivably step in for the departing Dalvin Cook. He was the nation’s No. 2 prospect. As a senior, Akers rushed for 2,105 yards and 34 touchdowns. As a quarterback, he threw for 3,128 yards and 31 touchdowns. For his career, he had more than 13,000 yards and 149 touchdowns. Akers might be one of the backs by committee next year, but he should run to the head of the pack early.

2. Marvin Wilson, defensive tackle: Wilson was FSU’s final coup of the recruiting season. If you want to know how quickly a defensive tackle can help, just look at Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence, who made an impact for the national champs right off of the bus. Wilson should do the same.

3. Joshua Kaindoh, defensive end: Is Kaindoh physically able to play with veteran linemen? We’ll see. Look for him to get into a rotation with Josh Sweat and Brian Burns. By the time he’s a senior, Kaindoh should be a force.

4. D.J. Matthews, wide receiver: Matthews could be taller, but he’s quick enough to see playing time in the team’s rotation already.

5. Stanford Samuels, cornerback: Some of the best quarterbacks in college football victimized the Noles last year. Samuels is expected to help stop that. His playing time will increase as the season goes along.

Florida

1. James Robinson, wide receiver: Robinson was a surprise signee with the Gators after being arrested for marijuana. Robinson, 6-4 and 205, represents a problem for smaller defensive backs. He missed two games but still caught 46 passes for 865 yards and eight touchdowns.

2. Tedarrell Slaton, defensive tackle: Slaton was the Gators’ top ranked recruit. He should be able to get some playing time as a freshman.

3. Christopher Henderson, cornerback: With the Gators facing heavy losses in their secondary, Henderson could step in quickly.

4. Dequon Green, wide receiver: No matter who the quarterback turns out to be, he’ll need targets. Green averaged 19.6 yards per catch at Tampa Bay Tech.

5. Zach Carter, defensive end: Another product from Tampa, Carter could be a force off the edge early in his career.

Miami

1. N’Kosi Perry, quarterback: Quarterbacks usually wait a year, but Perry might be different. He’ll compete with Cade Wilson, but he’s a two-way player who could help. Coach Mark Richt hasn’t been shy about playing freshmen in the past.

2. Jeff Thomas, wide receiver: Thomas caught 50 passes for 1,101 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was elusive enough so the Hurricanes dipped into St. Louis to get him on board.

3. Navaughn Donaldson, offensive tackle: Not many offensive linemen are able to play as freshmen, but Donaldson might be different. He’s big, and he has good feet.

4. Mike Harley, wide receiver: With Thomas and Harley, the Hurricanes are adding to their speed and their depth. Harley was a star in nearby Fort Lauderdale.

5. De’Andre Wilder, linebacker: The Hurricanes featured young linebackers a year ago in their improved defense. Now, Wilder could work into the mix in a hurry.

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Tampa Bay Rowdies announce their under 23 development team

The Tampa Bay Rowdies would like to grow a player or two on their own.

The Rowdies will field a team in the USL’s Premier Development league this year, as the Rowdies U23 team is to begin play.

The team will remain based in Tampa at the Waters Soccer Complex and will compete in the PDL’s Southern Conference’s Southeast Division, which currently features seven other teams from around the Sunshine State.

“Rowdies U23 will give us an opportunity to develop young talent in the Tampa Bay area, while also developing a strong connection with the community,” said Rowdies Chairman and CEO Bill Edwards. “There are many talented youth players in the region and Rowdies U23 will hopefully guide them towards becoming professional soccer players in the years to come. We want the sport to continue to grow in Tampa Bay and Rowdies U23 will do just that.”

The PDL, a part of the United Soccer Leagues – which also operates the USL and Super Y League – has served as a major development platform for aspiring professional players for more than two decades. Since 2010, nearly 70 percent of all MLS SuperDraft selections have had PDL experience, with 59 PDL alums chosen in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft.

FC Miami City, The Villages SC, Palm Beach Suns FC, IMG Academy, the South Florida Surf, Weston FC and the Tropics will serve as the Rowdies U23’s in-state rivals.

“The PDL is always excited and supportive of highly-operated teams from the USL, given the resources they provide to aspiring professionals,” PDL Director Todd Eason said. “There is a hotbed of talent in this region, and the Tampa Bay Rowdies U23 will provide an exceptional environment for the development of many college-aged players. I have no doubt the Rowdies U23 will adopt the ‘Path to Pro’ model and field a talented side to compete in a tough Southern Conference.”

The PDL, acknowledged as a leading “Path to Pro,” is a key phase in the development of emerging soccer talent in this country. As an amateur competition, the PDL allows college-aged players to retain their college eligibility, while also benefiting from high-level, competitive play during the college offseason.

The Rowdies U23 will enter the PDL alongside the Weston FC, Lakeland Tropics, Myrtle Beach Mutiny, Nashville SC U23, Tobacco Road FC, Wilmington Hammerheads FC and a San Diego-based team as expansion franchises.

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That was awkward: Roger Goodell dodges on Raiders, parries on Pats

Nothing produces awkward NFL moments quite like watching the commissioner parry all those thorny issues involving the league’s oldest and newest troublemakers – the Raiders and Patriots.

Reporters spent time poking Roger Goodell about “Deflategate,” the Raiders’ now-threatened move to Las Vegas, and other delicate topics at the commissioner’s less-formal, less-crowded and, frankly, less-newsy pre-Super Bowl news conference, held on a Wednesday this year instead of the traditional Friday afternoon slot.

Going sans necktie and speaking in a room about half the size as his usual Super Bowl venue, Goodell insisted nothing was off-kilter between the league and either team.

He said “there’s a great deal more work to be done” before the Raiders can move to Las Vegas, a reality reinforced after both casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and a backup financier, Goldman Sachs, pulled out of the stadium deal this week. The league is supposed to decide on the Las Vegas move in March.

“But if any key aspect is changed, the process could be slowed down,” Eric Grubman, the league’s executive vice president of business ventures, told The Associated Press.

Goodell said it was unlikely a casino owner could own a stake in a stadium, which would seem to disqualify Adelson anyway. About the more delicate question of whether it’s good business for the league, which has always disdained gambling, to stick a franchise in the gambling capital of America, the commissioner said the league is in touch with the reality that gambling “exists throughout our world.”

“We’ve always said there’s a fine line between team sports gambling and the NFL,” Goodell said. “We want to protect the integrity of our game and that’s something we’ll always do.”

The commissioner was only four days away from potentially handing the Lombardi Trophy to Patriots owner Robert Kraft. It would be the most awkward commissioner-owner handoff since 1981, when Pete Rozelle presented Raiders owner Al Davis with the trophy while Davis was suing the league over Rozelle’s attempt to block the team’s move from Oakland to Los Angeles.

Fittingly, Goodell took five questions about the Patriots, almost all of them designed to put him on the defensive. The core of it: “Deflategate,” and the four-game suspension he levied against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to start the season.

Among the highlights: Why didn’t Goodell attend a Patriots playoff game, while heading to Atlanta twice? Has he spoken with Brady? How is he getting along with Kraft?

“We have a disagreement about what occurred,” Goodell said. “We have been very transparent about what we think the violation was. We went through a lengthy process. We disagree about that. … I’m not afraid of disagreement. And I don’t think disagreement leads to distrust or hatred.”

Kraft was among the very few owners who attended the news conference, but he ducked out quickly afterward without taking questions.

Goodell also faced a number of questions on the Chargers’ recent move from San Diego to Los Angeles: “Relocations are painful,” he said.

Of this week’s news reports that San Diego could end up as a home for the Raiders if Las Vegas falls through, Goodell cited a “history of markets that get deals done after a team leaves. It’s a painful way to do it.” Among those markets are Cleveland, St. Louis, Los Angeles and this year’s Super Bowl host, Houston.

On other topics:

— Goodell said no timeline had been set on an investigation into alleged domestic abuse by Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. He said there’s an active investigation into former Giants kicker Josh Brown and no decision has been made about his status.

— About loosening restrictions on marijuana use, Goodell essentially ignored the question and said he wants to include that topic in negotiations with the players’ union.

— The commissioner defended widely derided and often non-competitive weekly games on Thursday nights and said they’d remain part of the schedule.

— He fielded no questions about concussions or protecting quarterbacks, even though both remained hot topics all season.

— In the wake of a TV ratings decline, the league will keep looking into ways to decrease the amount of dead time during games.

— Probed a few times on the travel ban and other decisions made recently by President Donald Trump, Goodell refused to wade in, saying he’s 100 percent focused on the Super Bowl. “We’re in a unique position to have an event on Sunday that will bring the world together,” he said.

Goodell also announced the NFL would return to Mexico City next year for a game pitting – who else? – the Raiders and the Patriots.

If the commissioner meets up with Kraft there – or on Sunday, for that matter – he insists everything will be just fine.

“I would tell you it’s not awkward at all for me,” Goodell said. “We have a job to do. We do our job. We understand fans are loyal and passionate for their team and they object and don’t like the outcome. That’s not unusual for me.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Florida families will each spend at least $75 on Super Bowl festivities, retailers say

The average cost of a Super Bowl party is down slightly in 2017, but the Florida Retail Federation doesn’t think that will stop Floridians from going all out this weekend.

Florida families are expected to spend an average of $75 per person to watch Super Bowl LI between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots on Feb. 5. While the average per person cost is down slightly from last year, total spending across the country is expected to reach $14.1 billion.

“Floridians love their football more than just about any other state, and with the Super Bowl being the final game of the year, we expect fans to celebrate the end to great seasons in both professional and college football,” said Randy Miller, the president and CEO of Florida Retail Federation, in a statement. “The Super Bowl is truly a must-see event for Floridians whether they follow the sport closely or not, and we expect local consumers to load up on food, drinks and decorations for their game watching parties.”

In 2015, people spent an average of $82 per person on a Super Bowl party and total spending reached about $15.5 billion.

“As a favorite American past-time, the Super Bowl is a great chance for viewers to reconnect with friends and family after having a nice break after the holiday season,” said Pam Goodfellow, a principal analyst with Prosper Insights & Analytics, which conducted a nationwide survey for the National Retail Federation, in a statement.

“Even though the number of viewers is slightly down this year, plenty are still planning to enjoy the day by watching it at their favorite bar or friend’s place, wearing their lucky jerseys and hoping their favorite team wins.”

An estimated 188.5 million people are expected to watch the Super Bowl this week. The National Retail Federation survey found 43 percent of viewers said the game is the most important part of the Super Bowl; while 24 percent said the commercials were the most important part. About 12 percent of respondents said they tune in for the half-time show.

Nationwide, 45 million people hosting a Super Bowl party should expect a full house. According to a National Retail Federation Survey, 12.4 million people plan to head to their favorite bar or restaurant to watch the game.

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FSU finishes its recruiting by signing another Top 10 player

A good day got even better for the FSU Seminoles Wednesday.

The Seminoles signed highly regarded defensive tackle Marvin Wilson.

Wilson had been rated as the No. 6 player in the country and the No.1 defensive tackle. His signing improved FSU’s standings to fourth in the ESPN rankings, although the Seminoles were still sixth in the 247sports.com rankings.

Wilson’s signing gives FSU three players in the top 10. No other team had more than two.

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MLS Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott talks expansion

Right now, the race for a new MLS expansion team seems to be in a 12-team tie.

At least, that was the impression from a 45-minute conference call with MLS Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott, who was careful not to handicap the race and to say only good things about the contestants.

Abbott did say his Expansion Committee – to be made up of team owners – will want a decision on the next four MLS teams by the end of this year with an eye on 2020. He repeated that his criteria was 1) whether it has the dynamics from a fan support criteria to be successful; 2) whether it can add to the league from a media standpoint; 3. whether it has a solid ownership group and 4) its stadium plan.

Where does that put St. Petersburg? Certainly, it would seem to be in the top half. 1) It’s popular. 2) It has the largest media market currently without a team; 3) Plans have been discussed to add to Al Lang and 4) Bill Edwards has been one of the most dependable owners in the NASL.

“Some of the factors are factors that we talked about,” Abbott said.

Said Edwards: “Today Major League Soccer hosted a media call with MLS President and Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott to discuss the expansion applications they received. We are very encouraged by Deputy Commissioner Abbott’s comments related to our ownership, media market, stadium plan and team history. Our assets stack up well against Major League Soccer’s criteria for selecting expansion cities.”

Are there problems in other cities?

Sure. Sacramento is still working on a unified ownership group. Miami has had problems getting a stadium. Cincinnati is currently in Nippert Stadium. Charlotte has no history of a pro soccer league.

Look at the 12 cities, and it’s easy to put them into four categories, even if Abbott won’t.

1. The favorites: St. Louis, Sacramento, Detroit.

2. The darkhorses: St. Petersburg, Cincinnati, Minnesota.

3. The longshots: Indianapolis, Raleigh, Phoenix.

4. Thanks for playing: Charlotte, Nashville, San Diego.

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Florida State sign pair of running backs in recruiting class

With Dalvin Cook leaving Florida State early for the NFL draft, coach Jimbo Fisher signed two guys that could be his replacement.

Cam Akers and Khalan Laborn are both five-star recruits that both could see playing time next season.

Akers, an early enrollee, is regarded as the nation’s top running back prospect and Laborn is more of an all-purpose back. Fisher thinks there will be plenty of room for both.

“Backs realize that if there are different roles you can play two at a time,” Fisher said on Wednesday. “If you’re in a split-back formation, guys can split out and be receivers and catch bubble screens and routes downfield. All of those guys have those kind of qualities. We always had a large rotation of backs.”

Fisher also said the biggest thing that stands out from the 21 players he signed on Wednesday is that it might be one of his more athletic groups due to the size and speed.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Successful football recruiting intensifies FAU, FIU rivarly

The coaches are new. The programs are refreshed.

Soon, FAU and FIU will fight it out the way they did in this year’s football recruiting.

Both teams did well in the Conference USA recruiting, with FAU finishing first and FIU third in the conference competition. FAU was 70th overall in the country and FIU was 75th.

It could signal a new day for both programs. FAU is now led by former Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, and FIU is led by former Miami coach Butch Davis.

FAU’s class was headed by receiver Willie Wright. FIU landed athlete Dorian Hall.

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Impact wide receiver Marlon Williams heads UCF’s recruits

Marlon Williams, a one-time commitment to Southern Cal, highlighted a good recruiting class for the UCF Knights.

Williams, whose 47 catches included 22 touchdowns, should help with the aerial attack of coach Scott Frost. He is from Mobile, Ala.

The Knights added 21 names to their recruiting list, which ranked 60th in the country according to 247sports.com.

“I know he’s a good, offensive-minded coach and I really look forward to playing for (Frost),” Williams told the Orlando Sentinel. He also said UCF fans can expect an “exciting player who makes big plays and a fun person to watch.”

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