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Despite careful scheduling, Gators gladly running end of season gauntlet

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As anyone who cares about college football knows, the Florida Gators will face top-ranked Alabama in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday. Despite going in and out of the Ben Hill Griffin M.A.S.H. unit, and entering the game as huge underdogs, Gator Nation would rather be playing in the game instead of sitting at home.

Gators’ Coach Jim McElwain knows the enormity of the task before him and his team on Saturday.

“There’s only been a couple of times so far that I’ve become violently ill watching (film),” he deadpanned.

To manage the progress and health of their teams, football schedules are carefully set up well in advance, especially by power programs like Florida. A strategically-placed bye week and a cupcake opponent here or there will dot the schedule to serve a particular purpose.

The Gators did not plan on finishing the year with an LSU/FSU/Alabama gauntlet.

They scheduled a bye week for October 22, giving them an extra week to prepare for arch-rival Georgia on October 29. With FSU looming on the schedule on November 26, Florida scheduled the epitome of a cupcake, Presbyterian, for November 19. The goal was to play the starters briefly, then get ready for the trip to Tallahassee.

Hurricane Matthew upset the proverbial apple cart. The October 8 home game against LSU was moved to November 19 in Baton Rouge. Presbyterian was paid to stay home, likely answering some prayers from some at the school who have some practice at the ritual.

This meant that instead of healing their wounds with a Presbyterian, the Gators faced a brutal road game against a tough SEC opponent. Be honest; would the Gators rather prepare for Florida State with a home game against a team called the Blue Hose or on the road against the Tigers?

If Florida could somehow beat LSU, they would earn the extra game against the Crimson Tide.

In a show of grit and determination, they somehow beat LSU. But it took a physical toll on a team already nursing injuries. The subsequent 31-13 loss to FSU, a physical game from the opening kickoff, did not leave Florida fresh as a daisy.

To be sure, Gator Nation would say “don’t feel sorry for us, at least we’re in the SEC Championship Game….again. Unlike FSU, at least we have a chance to win our league.”

Good point.

Now, if Stuart Appleby and the Gators’ offense can score some points against the nation’s best defense, or Caleb Brantley and the defense can force a couple of key turnovers, Florida’s chances can only improve.

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

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