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Downtrodden Florida football teams making comebacks

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For the most part, Florida football fans — both college and pro — have not had a lot to cheer about in recent years. Lately, however, football fans around the state have had some reason to cheer on both Saturday and Sunday.

Unless one was a Florida State fan, supporters of Florida’s teams had to be satisfied with an occasional strong performance. The Seminoles have been a championship contender over the past five seasons.

It has been a tough go for fans of Florida’s pro teams.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars have had a fairly miserable time over the past few seasons. The Buccaneers, for example, have struggled to a 19-45 record over the previous four seasons.

It has been worse for Jaguars’ fans, who have enjoyed only 17 wins to soothe the anguish of 63 losses over the past five years. Dolphins fans have had the best run as their team posted a 29-35 mark over the previous four years.

All three are on a high note right now. The Bucs, without their starting backfield, beat the defending NFC Champion Carolina Panthers 17-14 on the road in their last outing. Yes, Carolina was without Pro Bowl Quarterback Cam Newton, but the entire Bucs’ backfield of Doug Martin and Charles Sims also missed the game.

After starting 0-3 this season, the Jaguars have now won two straight. Sunday they came from behind on the road to beat the Chicago Bears, 17-16. Jacksonville’s young players are starting to get the feel of the NFL.

The Dolphins are 2-4, but their last outing, a 30-15 defeat of Pittsburgh, was significant. For a team that has struggled running the ball, Jay Ajayi himself rushed for 204 yards on Sunday. First-year coach Adam Gase will eventually get this offense rolling consistently.

On the college level, other good things are happening. At the top of the list is Central Florida, who went winless in 2015. They are now 3-3 (but should be 4-2 had Saturday’s Temple miracle not happened) and play competitive football. First-year coach Scott Frost is building something in Orlando.

Florida International has struggled mightily the last four season and the first four games this year. When coach Ron Turner was let go and replaced by Ron Cooper, things changed. The Golden Panthers are a perfect 3-0 under Cooper and lead their division in Conference USA.

Both Florida and Miami are better teams this year. They have been mediocre — by their standards — in the recent past, but the Gators’ Jim McElwain and Miami’s Mark Richt have their teams pointed to a return to the upper echelons of their leagues.

The USF Bulls were not at the level they were when B.J. Daniels and company was leading them to bowl games. Last year, they stood at 1-3 after four games, but won seven of their last eight. This year, coach Willie Taggart has his team at 6-1 with the only loss coming to Florida State.

Few teams, football-wise, have been as disappointing as Florida A&M’s fall from grace. FAMU won only seven games over the past four years combined.

The school of legendary coaches Jake Gaither and Rudy Hubbard and Hall of Fame receiver “Bullet” Bob Hayes was off to an 0-4 start this year, but have now won two of three and could very easily have had four wins already.

Coach Alex Wood made a controversial postgame comment earlier this year, saying his team was “not very good.” Since the comment and the changes that followed, FAMU started to win some games.

No doubt a few bumps remain along the way, but Florida’s football teams are set to make their fans’ weekends much more enjoyable for the foreseeable future.


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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