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Both FSU, Florida football teams will be represented in Super Bowl

There will be at least a bit of the Sunshine State in the upcoming Super Bowl.

Former FSU running back Devonta Freeman, who had his second straight 1,000-yard season this year, will lead the Atlanta Falcons. Former FSU guard Tre’ Jackson is on the Patriots’ physically unable to perform list.

The Florida Gators have been represented in 15 straight Super Bowls, since the Tampa Bay Bucs won. This year, both Keanu Neal and Brian Poole play for the Atlanta Falcons.

divorce alimony

Alimony reform bill filed for 2017

State Rep. Colleen Burton will try again to overhaul the state’s alimony law, filing a bill on Wednesday.

The Lakeland Republican still aims to toughen the standards by which alimony is granted and changed, after last year’s measure was vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott.

“I believe it is the right thing to do,” Burton said in a phone interview. “It costs families a lot of money to go through a process that has no starting point. This gives judges a starting point, the same in Miami as in Pensacola, and gives predictability to former spouses who are trying to determine alimony.

“I have nothing personal invested in this,” she added. “This is just worth trying again.”

The latest bill (HB 283), however, does not contain child custody provisions that garnered Scott’s disfavor in 2016.

He disapproved of that legislation because it had the potential to put the “wants of a parent before the child’s best interest by creating a premise of equal time-sharing,” his veto letter said.

Family-law related bills have had trouble getting Scott’s signature even as lawmakers have tried for years to change the way Florida’s courts award alimony.

In 2013, Scott vetoed a previous attempt to modify alimony law because, he said, “it applies retroactively and thus tampers with the settled economic expectations of many Floridians who have experienced divorce.”

He added that the “retroactive adjustment of alimony could result in unfair, unanticipated results.”

On one side, former spouses who wrote the checks have said permanent alimony in particular, or “forever alimony,” wasn’t fair to them.

Their exes shot back that they shouldn’t be penalized, for example, after staying home to raise the children and then having trouble re-entering the workplace.

But Burton’s 26-page bill, among other things, contains a guideline that says judges should consider an ex-spouse’s “services rendered in homemaking, child care, education, and career building of the other party” when calculating an award.

A judge can go outside the suggested alimony amount under the bill “only if the court considers all of the factors … and makes specific written findings concerning the relevant factors that justify” the deviation.

A message for Burton seeking comment was left at her Lakeland district office.

But her Senate counterpart last year, Republican Kelli Stargel also of Lakeland, said in a text message she will not file a companion measure.

“I don’t know that I’m willing to take this on again next year,” she told FloridaPolitics.com in April. “Then again, a lot can happen between now and the next legislative session. But we need to discuss the merits of a bill and not get into heated rhetoric.”

The legislation eventually caused “a hollering battle” between about 100 advocates and opponents of the bill outside Scott’s office days before the veto.


Update: State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican, on Friday filed the Senate companion to the House bill, which she says is identical save for  “a few punctuation differences.”

Florida schools’ in-state bowl wins will only help recruiting

We are less than three weeks from National Signing Day for college football. Florida’s power schools will, of course, do well, while South Florida is a finalist for the biggest remaining prize.

Florida, Florida State and Miami each posted impressive bowl game victories in their home state, something that can perhaps sway an undecided star player. Better yet, it can impress an in-state junior or sophomore enough to put your school on the list for a future signing day.

The Gators’ rout of Iowa in the Outback Bowl, Miami’s romp over No. 12 West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl, and the Seminoles’ squeaker over Michigan in the Orange Bowl were huge for all three programs. It did not take the Hurricanes long to begin using their bowl trophy as a recruiting tool.

Before bowl season, all three were having good recruiting years. The 2017 Florida State recruiting class is ranked sixth by Rivals.com and seventh by ESPN.

Yes, Alabama has the top-rated class.

Florida is ranked 18th by both outlets, while Miami is 13th by ESPN and 14th by Rivals. None of the other Florida schools are ranked in the top 40, but Central Florida is rated 53rd by Rivals.

USF is a finalist along with FSU, Ohio State, Oklahoma and LSU for defensive tackle Marvin Wilson from Houston, Texas. He has already visited the first three, but will travel to LSU on Saturday and USF next Friday.

Statements from Wilson indicate LSU and FSU are currently his top two. Whomever Wilson selects, that school’s class ranking will rise accordingly.

Another top defensive tackle is Aubrey Solomon of Leesburg, Ga. He will visit Southern California on Friday, Auburn next Friday and Florida on January 27, only five days before he will make a decision.

The top remaining Floridian is defensive end Jarez Parks of Sebastian, Fla. He is visiting Florida on Friday and Auburn next Friday. His visit to Tallahassee came during the Florida State vs. Florida weekend.

There is plenty of competition for high school talent, but especially in Florida. The available talent is at the top of the charts.

National Champion Clemson always recruits Florida hard. Winning that championship in Tampa can only help their long-term prospects.

Former Gator Coach Will Muschamp is bringing a couple of Florida recruits to his new home at South Carolina. The Gamecocks have the 11th-best class.

For those that follow recruiting closely, this will be an interesting three weeks.

 

Examining the expectations for Florida football teams in 2017

If the early prognostications mean anything, then a level of success is going to surround the state of Florida in 2017.

Most of the too-soon predictions for next season have FSU contending for a playoff spot. They think USF could have its best season ever. They think Florida and Miami will both be solid. The predictions come despite FSU losing Dalvin Cook, despite Florida losing much of its defense, despite USF losing Marlon Mack and despite UM losing Brad Kaaya.

ESPN has FSU second in the nation to Alabama. CBS has the Seminoles third. Sporting News has FSU sixth, same as Pro Football Focus. SB Nation has FSU fourth.

USF is 10th by CBS. They’re 20th on ESPN, 25th on Sporting News, 15th by Pro Football Focus and 21st by SB Nation.

Florida is ranked 21st by ESPN, 14th by Sporting News, 21st by Pro Football Focus and 18th by SB Nation. They are unranked by CBS.

UM is 16th by ESPN, 24th by CBS, 21st by Sporting News, 17th by Pro Football Focus and 19th by SB Nation.

FSU ranked eighth in final AP poll; three other state teams ranked

In the final Associated Press poll of the year, the debate anymore is not who is No. 1.

It’s how the rest of the field sorts out.

This year, for instance, there was never any doubt that Clemson and Alabama would be 1-2 in the polls. But Southern Cal climbed to No. 3 in the final poll.

The two national semifinal losers finished behind the Trojans. Washington was fourth and Ohio State sixth (behind Oklahoma).

Four of Florida’s teams made the top 20 in the poll. FSU finished No. 8 and Florida No. 14 in the polls. USF finished 19th, the first time ever the team has been ranked in the final poll. Miami was 20th.

LSU was 13th. The Tigers, Florida and USF all climbed six spots in the final poll.

Steve Sarkisian: Time away showed me I loved coaching football

Steve Sarkisian has been cramming for a final exam he didn’t know he’d have to take.

The newly elevated Alabama offensive coordinator had all of a week after his earlier-than-expected promotion to prepare and implement the game plan for Monday night’s national championship game with No. 3 Clemson. Not to mention getting better acquainted with players, most notably quarterback Jalen Hurts, and adapting to a very different job description.

“I’m embracing this more than anything,” Sarkisian said Saturday. “I would be remiss if I didn’t exhaust myself in the preparation standpoint to put our players in the best position to go do the best job they can do Monday night because they’ve earned this.”

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban told Sarkisian he was getting the early bump in responsibilities last Sunday, the day after the Peach Bowl semifinal game. A day later, Saban announced that Lane Kiffin would head to his new job leading the Florida Atlantic program instead of sticking around through the playoffs as initially planned.

Sarkisian, 42, had already been promoted and started formulating ideas for spring practices and for the offense and he said that made the transition easier .

He amiably faced dozens of reporters and cameras, and a spotlight he’d been able to avoid since his firing as Southern California’s head coach in October 2015, and subsequent entry into an inpatient rehab facility for alcoholism.

He mostly said questions about his battle were “for another time,” but did touch on what he’d learned about himself during that time.

“I think the biggest thing I discovered about me is, I’m a good person,” Sarkisian said. “Not perfect, like none of us are. But the reality of it is I also learned that I love this game and I love coaching football. I love being around these players. I love being around the coaches. I love all of college football. I love game day, when you get to go to that stadium. I really like to try to take it in. I think it’s important that we don’t just gloss over that kind of stuff, and enjoy the moment.”

That was much easier to do as an offensive analyst than a head coach, or coordinator for that matter. Asked how he was doing personally, Sarkisian said succinctly: “Life is good.” He also believes he’ll be a head coach again.

Sarkisian said he has spoken to Kiffin this week and praised his performance over the last three years, which included three Southeastern Conference titles and a shot at a second national championship.

He was expecting to spend the season working as a television analyst, but then started visiting different teams. His first practice observing the Atlanta Falcons drove home how much he wanted to get right back into coaching.

Those stops included the University of Florida, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a week in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, with Saban and Kiffin, a former colleague at USC.

“Before he left, he said he was supposed to do some TV work or something, but he would really like to get involved in a program someplace, and if there was any opportunity for him to do it here …” Saban said. “And I liked him in the week that he spent with us.”

They delayed his starting the job until after the opener against USC – to avoid looking like Alabama was seeking an advantage in the game.

Sarkisian had already learned the offense but his behind-the-scenes role didn’t allow him to develop close relationships with most of the players, including Hurts. Hurts says he’d only had three or four casual conversations with Sarkisian before this week.

“Nothing’s changed, it’s just a different guy calling plays,” Hurts said. He did check out some of Sarkisian’s coaching highlights online, and said his postgame celebration was “pretty cool.”

“Lane is moreso a laid-back guy,” Hurts said. “Coach Sark is an enthusiastic guy. He’s kind of electric. He brings a different feel to practice. It’s different for all of us.”

Sarkisian said the two have “a really good relationship” and he’s clearly been able to watch and learn about the freshman throughout the season even if the reverse isn’t necessarily true.

“He’s a kid who loves football,” Sarkisian said. “He’s a gym rat. He works at the game. Those are the kind of guys I like to be around. They make my job easier. I think it’s a good (relationship). I think we’ve worked well together this week and ultimately I think we’ll work well together Monday night.”

Sarkisian was constantly in motion during the media viewing period at practices in Tuscaloosa, including rushing at the quarterbacks with arms upraised to simulate a blitz.

He might have to be ready to get yelled at on the sidelines. Kiffin absorbed more than a few chewing-outs from Saban during games.

Sarkisian says he hasn’t experienced that from a head coach since the 2009 Rose Bowl when USC was playing Penn State (and won 52-49). Sarkisian had already accepted the head coaching job at Washington.

“I was thinking to myself, ‘I’m a head coach, too,'” he said, smiling. “But not in that game I wasn’t.”

Republished with permission from the Associated Press.

Two recruiting sites say FSU is having a Top 10 recruiting year

The rich, evidently, get richer.

The recruiting sites are writing that most of the Florida schools are doing well in recruiting, led by FSU, which both 247sports.com and Rivals.com see as having a top 10 recruiting class again.

Of course, the signatures are not on the line yet, so recruitings can shuffle somewhat.

The website 247sports.com has FSU fifth in the nation. They have Miami 15th, Florida 19th, UCF 60th, USF 73rd, FIU 89th and FAU 95th.

Rivals, has most of the teams in the same neighborhood. They have FSU eighth, Miami 13th, Florida 17th, UCF 50th, USF 73rd, FAU 88th and FIU 89th.

Florida defense swarms against Iowa in winning the Outback Bowl

This time, the Florida Gators charged into their off-season.

This time, the Gators finished their season in the accepted way.

Florida overwhelmed Iowa in Monday’s Outback Bowl, winning a 30-3 game and hardly breaking a sweat. The Gators intercepted three passes and held Hawkeye quarterback C.B. Beathard to only seven completions on 23 attempts for 55 yards. They also stopped a fourth-and-goal from the one.

A year ago, Florida ended with three straight losses. Had the Gators lost to Iowa, it would have finished the same way after losses to FSU and Alabama. But the Gators rolled to enter their off-season with a victory.

Freshman defensive back Chauncey Gardner intercepted two passes, returning one of them 58 yards for a score, to win MVP honors. Running back Jordan Scarlett ran for 84 yards to lead the rushing attack, and quarterback Austin Appleby threw for 222 yards and two scores after his first two passes of the day were intercepted.

Those interceptions led to a single field goal for Iowa. After that, Florida scored 30 straight points, including three field goals by Eddie Piniero. Mark Thompson turned a short pass from Appleby into an 85-yard touchdown and DeAndre Goosby scored on a six-yard pass.

For Florida, however, it was a familiar way to win. The vaunted Gator defense gave up only 226 total yards to Iowa. They allowed only four third down conversions on 16 plays.

“I’m so proud of them,” said coach Jim McElwain. “It’s well-documeted how beat up we were . We never once all year used that as an excuse in any shape or form.”

The Gators face the challenge of continuing to build their offense – which has ranked No. 111 and No. 116 the last two seasons. Much of this year’s defense will head to the NFL in the off-season, leaving McElwain with his biggest challenge.

“I will tell you that we’ll be tougher along the front next year,” McElwain said. “We’ve got good skill positions, but we have to develop a mindset that we will not be denied.”

Airbnb reaches agreement with Hillsborough County over tourist taxes

Airbnb has reached an agreement Wednesday with the Hillsborough County Tax Collector Office, in a deal that could immediately add thousands of dollars in county revenue.

Home hosts in Hillsborough will begin paying bed taxes for overnight guests, which is estimated at about one-quarter million dollars a year.

Airbnb will collect and remit taxes from 838 property owners countywide who rent out bedrooms, apartments and even entire houses as lodging for visitors, Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden said in a statement announcing the deal.

“As an elected official tasked with the collection of tax revenue for Hillsborough County,” Belden said, “it’s my job to ensure the best possible outcome for taxpayers and the county.”

Property owners offer short-term rentals through Airbnb, an international company that uses a mobile app to connect tourists and other visitors with homes for bed-and-breakfasts or private residences. The service has become part of the fast-growing peer-to-peer lodging industry.

Currently, only those savvy property owners with the will to collect and remit tourist taxes have done so.

The Hillsborough agreement brings further integrity to Airbnb’s rapidly-growing business in Florida, which has been sharply criticized by some for avoiding regulation and taxes, as well as placing lodging facilities in neighborhoods, sometimes inappropriately.

Nevertheless, the company’s positive efforts have attracted strong political backing.

And the Hillsborough deal brought some praise from critics.

“We applaud the Hillsborough County Tax Collector’s office for holding Airbnb’s feet to the fire and finalizing a deal with them that makes them not only provide real data, but allows them to audit their website and collect for back taxes,” Sarah Bascom, spokesperson for AirbnbWATCH Florida, said in a statement. “We believe County Tax Collectors, like Mr. Belden, are right to be skeptical about the data secrecy that Airbnb has been known for. Counties shouldn’t take a bad deal that potentially undermines neighborhoods while picking winners and losers in the tourism industry just to gain some quick revenue.”

Gov. Rick Scott expressed support for the operation Tuesday, joined Wednesday by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

In a statement from Buckhorn’s office, the mayor calls the agreement with Airbnb to collect local tourist taxes “transparent and accountable.”

Airbnb will report information on accounts to the county for auditing purposes, and ensure they collect the appropriate taxes.

As part of the agreement, the Tax Collector’s office and Airbnb reached a consensus on all points: public records exemptions, waiver of “look-back” on back taxes, and the process for auditing host accounts.

“I am very pleased to announce that Airbnb acquiesced to all the terms; I am a firm believer that if you cannot do the right thing, then you just should not do it at all.”

The agreement was executed Tuesday evening, becoming effective February 1, 2017.

“This agreement is yet another way to allow people traveling to the City of Tampa more options to authentically experience our incredibly unique culture and neighborhoods,” Buckhorn said in the release. “I’m proud of this collaboration with Airbnb to enhance Tampa’s status as a truly world class city and am excited to work with my Hillsborough County counterparts to put this new tax revenue stream to good use.”

Belden hopes other jurisdictions in the state of Florida will adopt the agreement.

In fact, Airbnb announced Tuesday similar agreements with 31 Florida counties, including Pinellas, Orange, and Osceola, and is seeking such deals with others.

“Airbnb and our host community are passionate about cultivating Hillsborough County’s growing tourism industry,” said Tom Martinelli, Airbnb Florida policy director. “We’re particularly excited that this brand-new tourist tax revenue will infuse new funding for Visit Tampa Bay to continue its mission of marketing Hillsborough to the rest of the world. We are committed to serving as steadfast partners to Mayor Buckhorn, Tax Collector Belden and the rest of this remarkable community.”

If the 2016 number of guest arrivals and host income were to remain consistent in Hillsborough, Airbnb projects that, through the new agreement, it would collect and remit to the county about $250,000 in annual tax revenue.

Airbnb’s presence in Florida has more than doubled over each of the past two years. Hillsborough County saw a similar increase — 198 percent in 2016 — according to a statewide report Tuesday from Airbnb Florida.

In 2016, Hillsborough County hosts earned $5.1 million in supplemental income. Tampa hosts accounted for $4.53 million, with hosts in the suburbs and other Hillsborough communities making approximately $580,000.

Tampa’s 600 Airbnb hosts welcomed about 32,000 guests in 2016. That represents 198 percent year over year growth in guest arrivals, one of the highest growth rates of any major American city and far outpacing the Florida statewide rate of 114 percent year-over-year increase in visitor arrivals.

Airdna, a consulting firm doing data analysis on Airbnb, reported Wednesday the company now claims 838 hosts in Tampa.

The tourist development tax is used for Hillsborough County to promote the region as a tourism and convention destination, as well as helping support tourism and sports facilities.

In fiscal year 2016, Hillsborough County collected $ 29.6 million in bed taxes.

State of Florida filled with quality head football coaches

The roster of Tampa Bay college coaches grew again Monday, when ESPN reported that Florida Atlantic University had agreed on a new contract with Lane Kiffin.

Kiffin, who has been the offensive coordinator at the University of Alabama, had been mentioned for several openings before agreeing to join the Owls. Kiffin might have gotten a bigger head coaching job if not for his reputation of jumping one school for another.

Regardless, the roster of coaches in the state schools is impressive.

FSU has Jimbo Fisher, ackowledged to be one of the best in the country. He flirted with LSU in each of the last two off-seasons, but stayed with the Seminoles. Fisher is the only coach in the state who has won a national title. Fisher is 74-17.

Florida has Jim McElwain, who has guided the Gators to the last two SEC title games (but lost). His team’s offense has been slowed by the lack of a true quarterback, however. McElwain is 17-8 at Florida, 39-24 overall.

Miami seems pleased after one season of coach Mark Richt, who led his team to an 8-4 finish this year. He’s 153-55 overall.

USF just hired new coach Charlie Strong, who has led the Louisville and Texas programs. He’s 53-37 overall.

UCF enjoyed its turnaround under Scott Frost from a winless team to a bowl team. His club is 6-6.

FIU earlier announced it would hire Butch Davis, who is 79-43 at Miami and North Carolina.

Now there is Kiffin, who is 35-21 as a head college coach.

Whose the best coach? We’ll see. Few states can match these guys. It ought to be fun.

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