Jan 15, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Las Vegas Raiders guard Alex Leatherwood (70) reacts after their loss against the Cincinnati Bengals in an AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Lot of juggling, surprise moves on NFL cutdown day

It’s a whirlwind every year when the NFL cutdown to 53 arrives with teams juggling numerous balls.

Who to cut? Which veterans to inform they are being released, but will return when players can be placed on short-term reserve/injured after the close of business Wednesday. Hoping players will clear waivers so they can be signed to the practice squad.

The numbers are large. Tuesday, there were 599 players waived, 36 of whom were injured and 113 with partially guaranteed contracts. There were also 150 vested veterans that had their contracts terminated, 10 with injury settlements. Add to that eight players traded, 32 placed on reserve lists (including six suspended).

Wednesday morning, 33 players were assigned to teams on waivers, meaning that same number had to come off rosters believing they had made it.

There are always surprises, although some of those are only because they have recognizable names.

The Eye-Openers

Tennessee punter Brett Kern: He played 13 seasons with the Titans and is fourth in club history with 197 games played, having punted a franchise-most 923 times. Kern also owns the best all-time team average (45.9) and net average (40.8) and was a captain the last two seasons. His replacement will be Colorado State rookie free agent Ryan Stonehouse, who had a 50.2 average, 41.3 net and landed six of his 13 preseason punts inside the 20-yard line.

Arizona edge rusher Devon Kennard: The Cardinals lost Chandler Jones in free agency and Kennard accepted a pay cut from $6.75 million to $1.12 million with $600,000 guaranteed in March. He was cut anyway. The Cardinals selected pass rushers Cameron Thomas and Myjai Sanders in the third round of the draft, but the player that knocked Kennard off the roster was Victor Dimukeje. A sixth-round pick in 2021, he was credited with making huge strides in the offseason and with his speed had two sacks in the preseason opener against Cincinnati.

Detroit quarterbacks Tim Boyle and David Blough: Boyle had his contract terminated Tuesday and then Blough was waived Wednesday when the Lions signed Nate Sudfeld. Blough has been featured frequently on Hard Knocks, not that it has anything to do with roster decisions. It’s simply odd that a team would cut its two backup quarterbacks to sign someone totally new that has a lot to learn in his new surroundings. Sudfeld has been in the NFL since 2016 and had his contract terminated by the 49ers on Tuesday. It’s possible Blough could be signed to the practice squad.

Buffalo tight end O.J. Howard: He has never lived up to expectations after being a first-round pick by the Buccaneers in 2017. He was able to command only a one-year contract with the Bills as a free agent this year, and despite being guaranteed nearly $3.2 million, he was cut. Howard was reportedly visiting Cincinnati on Wednesday, but by the end of the day, there had been no signing.

Las Vegas tackle/guard Alex Leatherwood: Ouch! Selected 17th overall by the Raiders in 2021, he changed positions as a rookie and then was waived by the team’s new coaching staff Tuesday. Las Vegas failed to find a trade partner before cutting him and the Bears claimed him on waivers Wednesday. His salary is guaranteed for this season, but it’s only $1.3 million. Can Chicago get out of him what the Raiders couldn’t? The odds are low because there were a lot of raised eyebrows when he was drafted at that spot.

–By Howard Balzer, Field Level Media

Nov 27, 2021; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores head coach Clark Lea coaches during the second half against the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt dismisses two players

Vanderbilt freshmen Maurice Edwards and Daniel Martin are no longer part of the program, Commodores coach Clark Lea announced Wednesday.

Edwards is a running back and Martin is a linebacker. Neither player saw action in last Saturday’s 63-10 season-opening victory at Hawaii.

“We take pride in having the highest standards as a program, and in doing so ensure that it is a privilege to be a part of this team,” Lea said in a statement. “A strong ecosystem will undoubtedly strengthen our program’s performance on and off the field, and this ecosystem is my responsibility.”

Vanderbilt is back in action on Saturday when it hosts Elon.

Lea said the departures will have no effect on the program.

“With respect to what it means moving forward, this program is going to be fine,” Lea said. “We’re not defined by any one person in the program. … We have a lot of guys in the locker room that we lean upon who are going to step into roles moving forward. We’re not going to bat an eye.”

–Field Level Media

Jul 18, 2022; Atlanta, GA, USA; LSU Tigers head coach Brian Kelly speaks to the media  during SEC Media Days at the College Football Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Not quite their heyday, but LSU vs. FSU still intriguing Sunday

Expectations aren’t as high for Florida State or LSU this season compared to what they generally have been, but Sunday night’s game in New Orleans still qualifies as one of college football’s most intriguing games of the week.

Neither team is ranked as the Seminoles (1-0) meet the Tigers in the Allstate Louisiana Kickoff in the Caesars Superdome, as LSU launches the Brian Kelly era in prime time.

As FSU tries to build on its season-opening 47-7 rout of FCS opponent Duquesne, one of these teams will leap into the Top 25 discussion.

“Kids, they know,” Seminoles third-year coach Mike Norvell said. “You don’t have to hype it up any extra for what it is. You go play your best and put your best foot forward each and every play, and you’ll give yourself the best chance to be successful in the moment.”

Against Duquesne, FSU had three 100-yard rushers for the first time in school history, as the Seminoles won their season opener for the first time since 2016. Treshaun Ward had a career-high 127 yards on 14 carries, Trey Benson went for 105 yards and Lawrance Toafili posted 101.

“Usually it’s whoever has the hot hand,” Benson said. “But today, all of us had the hot hand.”

Former Notre Dame coach Kelly said the Tigers must slow down the FSU running game or dual-threat quarterback Jordan Travis “will have a field day.”

As for his own quarterback, Kelly has declined to publicly name his starter even though he said he chose between Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels and redshirt freshman Garrett Nussmeier last weekend.

“I think it’s a tactical advantage not to announce it,” Kelly said.

The Tigers went just 6-7 last season as Ed Orgeron was fired as head coach, but they promptly shocked the college football world by spiriting away Notre Dame’s all-time winningest coach with a 10-year, $95-million deal.

Kelly and the Tigers will begin this season without John Emery, who was projected to be the top running back, but will miss at least the first two games of this season after missing all of last season because of academic issues.

–Field Level Media

Jul 29, 2022; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Washington Huskies coach Kalen DeBoer speaks during Pac-12 Media Day at Novo Theater. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Kalen DeBoer era opens at Washington vs. Kent State

After a tumultuous 2021 season, Washington hopes new coach Kalen DeBoer leads them back to some a sense of normalcy Saturday night as they open the season against an apparently overmatched visiting Kent State.

Yet, a year ago, Washington’s season launched with a stunning 13-7 loss to Montana and then-coach Jimmy Lake and the Dawgs never regained their footing on the way to a 4-8 season.

DeBoer, formerly at Fresno State, is the fourth Washington head coach in four seasons. Chris Petersen departed after the 2019 season and was replaced by Lake — but after the terrible start, Lake was under fire all season and was terminated in November following a sideline incident in which he was seen shoving one of his players — and was replaced on an interim basis by defensive coordinator Bob Gregory for the rest of the 2021 season.

Last week DeBoer named Michael Penix Jr., a transfer from Indiana, as the starting quarterback, and Wayne Taulapapa, a graduate transfer from Virginia, as the No. 1 running back.

Taulapapa, DeBoer said, “might be one of the most mature guys on our football team. It means a lot to him,” and cited his 27 career starts and ability to handle rushing, receiving and blocking duties well.

A win for the Huskies would be the 400th in school history at home. Washington was picked to finish sixth in the Pac-12 this season in a conference media poll.

Kent State won the Mid-American Conference Eastern Division title last season, finishing 7-7 after a 52-38 loss to Wyoming in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

Kent State was picked to finish second in the MAC East in a media poll. The program has a unique connection with Washington, in that legendary Huskies head coach Don James was Kent State’s head coach for four seasons before he arrived to turn the Huskies into a West Coast power for most of his tenure (1975-92).

“The football gods, they don’t miss,” Kent State head coach Sean Lewis said, noting that he keeps a book about James in his office and uses it for coaching guidance.

“We’ll get a real test here,” Lewis said, “and we’re going to see where we’re at.”

The Golden Flashes have a loaded nonconference schedule starting with a trip west to Seattle for their first-ever meeting with Washington, followed by a trip to No. 9 Oklahoma next week, and a Sept. 24 visit to No. 3 Georgia.

Washington follows the opener with a game against FCS team Portland State and then hosts No. 15 Michigan State before turning to Pac-12 play against Stanford – with all four game at Husky Stadium.

–Field Level Media

Aug 25, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA;  San Francisco 49ers running back Trey Sermon (28) runs the ball during the first half against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

49ers waive RB Trey Sermon after one year

San Francisco 49ers running back Trey Sermon survived roster cutdown day, but that turned out to be just a 24-hour reprieve.

The 49ers waived Sermon on Wednesday, just one season after selecting him in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Sermon, limited by injuries, rushed for 167 yards and a touchdown in nine games (two starts) for the Niners last season. He had gained nearly 3,000 yards in college, averaging 6.5 yards a carry for Oklahoma and Ohio State (2017-2020).

Elijah Mitchell, selected in the sixth round out of Louisiana in 2021 – three rounds later than Sermon – has become the established starter after gaining 963 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 4.65 yards a carry in 11 regular-season games last year.

The Niners will go with Jeff Wilson Jr., rookie Tyrion Davis-Price and undrafted rookie Jordan Mason behind Mitchell. Mason led the Niners in rushing (94 yards, 4.9 yards per carry) in the preseason.

–Field Level Media

Tennessee Titans punter Brett Kern (6) warms up during a training camp practice at Ascension Saint Thomas Sports Park Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn.

Nas Titans 005

Recently cut P Brett Kern apparently not interested in Bills

Brett Kern apparently is no longer in the mix to become the new punter of the Buffalo Bills.

The three-time Pro Bowler was released by the Tennessee Titans earlier this week. The Bills happen to have an opening after releasing rookie Matt Araiza, who was accused of being part of a gang rape during his college career at San Diego State.

Kern, 36, seemed to be a fit due to the fact that he grew up just outside Buffalo, but his father told a Niagara County radio station on Wednesday that isn’t the case.

Cal Kern told the station that his son will not be signing with the Bills and was encouraged by the Titans to remain ready in case rookie punter Ryan Stonehouse doesn’t pan out. Stonehouse, an undrafted free agent, beat out Kern for the job in the preseason by averaging 50.2 yards per punt to Kern’s 49.6.

Last season, Kern averaged 44.8 yards per boot for the Titans. He earned Pro Bowl honors in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Overall, Kern has a 45.9 career average over 14 seasons. He spent 22 games with the Denver Broncos (2008-09) before being released. He was signed by Tennessee and has played in 197 regular-season games for the Titans.

–Field Level Media

Nov 13, 2021; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) looks to throw a pass during the fourth quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Beaver Stadium. Michigan defeated Penn State 21-17. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Take 5: Week 1 CFB betting data and trends (Thurs-Fri)

The college football season gets rolling in earnest with four ranked teams and more than a dozen Power 5 programs in action during the first 48 hours of September.

It serves as a prelude to a jam-packed Saturday — and as an opportunity for the public to whet their whistle on the betting action.

Five interesting trends sportsbooks are reporting ahead of games on Sept. 1-2:

5. Backyard Brawl is Back
Pittsburgh will kick off the post-Kenny Pickett era by resuming its rivalry against West Virginia. The unfriendly neighbors haven’t played since 2011 and will both be debuting former Southern Cal quarterbacks: Kedon Slovis for Pitt and well-traveled JT Daniels for West Virginia.

The Panthers are a 7.5-point favorite at home, which is drawing fairly split action. The Mountaineers’ spread line has been backed by a small margin at 51 percent of the bets and 54 percent of the handle at DraftKings. However, Pitt is being supported by 55 percent of the action in both markets at BetRivers, with the matchup leading with 20.9 percent of the money wagered on the slate of games spanning Thursday and Friday.

Pittsburgh’s -305 moneyline has drawn the most money wagered on a single bet for Sept. 1-2 games while its spread line has garnered the second highest handle.

4. The Colonel Calling
Double-digit underdogs are dominating the biggest spread handles, but the most popular choice at BetRivers has been bucking that trend. Eastern Kentucky has drawn 99.5 percent of the spread handle as a 13.5-point underdog at Eastern Michigan.

Perhaps it can be chalked up to a handful of eager Colonels backers. The total number of spread line bets made actually favors Eastern Michigan with 54.55 percent.

3. Ride a Cowboy
The highest-ranked team in action over the first two days of action this week is No. 12 Oklahoma State at home against Central Michigan. The Cowboys have received one-sided action with 75 percent of the spread-line bets at DraftKings backing them at -21.5. Oklahoma State’s -1500 moneyline also hasn’t dissuaded bettors, who have backed it with 93 percent of the bets and 81 percent of the handle.

The Cowboys have also been popular at BetRivers, where their 12-point spread has been the third-most popular handle bet (88 percent) and their -2500 moneyline the fourth (97 percent).

2. All Hail Sparty
No. 15 Michigan State will kick off Friday’s action at home against Western Michigan. The Spartans are 23-point favorites at DraftKings and 23.5 at BetRivers, where it has been the fourth-most wagered game with 8.7 percent of the total bets placed on Thursday/Friday games.

Michigan State’s spread line has been the fifth-most popular bet at BetRivers with 81.2 percent of the action.

The in-state rivalry sees the Chippewas visiting East Lansing while breaking in a new quarterback. However, they do have a backfield duo that features former Michigan State running back La’Darius Jefferson and fellow returnee Sean Tyler, who combined for nearly 2,000 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns last year.

1. Unranked but Not Unloved
Among the smallest lines between Power 5 opponents this week is Penn State favored by 3.5 points at Purdue. Both proud Big Ten programs enter the season unranked.

The Nittany Lions are trying to rebound from a disappointing freefall that left them 7-6 last year while the Boilermakers are coming off a 9-4 campaign.

Penn State has been drawing one-sided action at both sportsbooks: 77 percent of the spread bets and 75 percent of the handle at DraftKings, and 61 and 60 percent, respectively, at BetRivers. It has drawn the second most bets among the Thursday/Friday schedule with 17.0 percent of the action, with Penn State’s -180 moneyline the third-most popular individual bet with 91 percent of the handle.

Penn State has dominated the series with a 15-3-1 record. However, Purdue does feature a high-powered offense led by quarterback Aidan O’Connell and transfer wide receiver Charlie Jones, a childhood friend from Chicago.

The 53.5-point Over/Under at BetRivers has seen split action with 54.46 percent of the bets and 50.07 percent of the money supporting the Over. The 53-point line at DraftKings has drawn 62 percent of the bets to the Over while the Under has been backed by 59 percent of the handle.

–Field Level Media

Nov 26, 2021; Seattle, Washington, USA; Washington State Cougars head coach Jake Dickert stands outside the locker room with wide receiver Calvin Jackson Jr. (8), running back Max Borghi (21) and linebacker Justus Rogers (37) before kickoff against the Washington Huskies at Alaska Airlines Field at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

WSU to unveil QB Cam Ward vs. Vandals

Washington State coach Jake Dickert begins his first full season Saturday against visiting Idaho with a revamped Air Raid offense the Cougars hope is effective with new prolific quarterback Cameron Ward.

Ward joined the program from Incarnate Word, where he passed for 4,648 yards last season while completing 384 of 590 passes (65.1 percent) with 47 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

He replaces Jayden de Laura, the Pac-12’s offensive freshman of the year who is now the No. 1 quarterback and a team captain at conference rival Arizona.

“I’m a believer in Cam Ward,” said Dickert, who coached the last six games of 2021 on an interim basis after coach Nick Rolovich was terminated for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine, which had been mandated for university employees.

“Cam has come in and earned the trust of this football team through repetitive action and hard work,” Dickert said. “He’s put in the hard work behind the scenes. I’m excited about what he’s going to do with the weapons that we have on offense.”

Dickert and first-year Idaho coach Jason Eck are longtime colleagues. In 2014 at Division II Minnesota State, Dickert was defensive coordinator and Eck offensive coordinator; and in 2016 both were on the South Dakota State staff.

Eck declined to name a QB1 at his weekly Monday news conference, using the word “or” to underscore his intention, while listing J’Bore Gibbs, CJ Jordan, and Gevani McCoy.

“There has definitely been some interest and suspense at that position, and honestly we’re going to dress four quarterbacks on Saturday,” he said. “We have confidence in all of them if they see the field.”

Whoever is at quarterback, Terez Traynor is the top returning receiver (50 receptions, 737 yards), and former JC transfer Jermaine Jackson showed himself as a versatile player during camp who will also return kicks.

“We want to see guys respond. We’ve got to win the one-on-ones if we get the matchups,” said Eck.

According to USA Today, Idaho receives $575,000 from Washington State for making the seven-mile drive across the state line. Next week, the Vandals will reportedly take in $1.3 million for their trip to Indiana.

–Field Level Media

Malik Cunningham watches from the sidelines during practice at Cardinal Stadium on Sunday, April 3, 2021


Louisville looks to continue dominance of ’Cuse

Louisville and Syracuse, two teams looking to break through in the ACC Atlantic Division, square off Saturday night in the season opener for both teams.

The host Orange feature Sean Tucker, the top rusher in the ACC last season. Even with Tucker’s school-record 1,496 yards, Syracuse won just five games last season in a rebound campaign from the forgettable 2020 (1-10).

“It really runs through that running back,” Louisville coach Scott Satterfield said of Tucker, who has gained 188 yards in two career games against Louisville.

Syracuse is 29-43 in six seasons under Dino Babers, with just 11 wins in the past three years. Last year, the Orange had the ACC’s worst passing offense. Garrett Shrader struggled at times after taking the starting job late in the season. He’s back, but the team is thin at quarterback after former starter Tommy DeVito left and won the starting job at Illinois and springtime standout Justin Lamson sustained a season-ending knee injury.

Louisville’s 41-3 victory over Syracuse in November helped the Cardinals secure a 6-6 regular-season record before they were edged by Air Force in a bowl game. The Cardinals are further heartened that three of their six losses came by one score.

The Cardinals are led by dynamic Malik Cunningham, the ACC’s top rushing quarterback, who will be trying to further balance up an offense that ranked eighth in the league in passing last season.

Cunningham returns after becoming the second quarterback in school history to rush for over 1,000 yards. He ranked fourth nationally and led the ACC with 20 rushing touchdowns while ranking 14th nationally in total offense.

Against Syracuse, Cunningham had five touchdowns in the first half last season.

“He’s an electrifying player,” Babers said of Cunningham. “When he steps on the field, traditionally he’s the best football player on the field on both sides.”

Despite being outscored by Louisville 71-3 in the past two meetings, Syracuse is showing a measure of outward confidence. At the ACC media day gathering in July, Syracuse linebacker Mikel Jones offered: “We see it as a good opportunity. We don’t think it’s going to be a tough challenge.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 18, 2021; Lubbock, Texas, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders quarter back Tyler Shough (12) hands off to running back Xavier White (14) against the Florida International Panthers during the first half at Jones AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Texas Tech hosts Murray State in opener

With Tyler Shough back at quarterback, the Texas Tech Red Raiders are set to open their season Saturday, entertaining the Murray State Racers in Lubbock, Texas.

Expectations are tempered for the Red Raiders in coach Joey McGuire’s first season as a collegiate head coach after five years as an assistant at Baylor, which followed a long stint as a high school coach in Texas (winning three state division titles at Cedar Hills).

Voters in the Big 12 preseason media poll picked Texas Tech to finish ninth in the 10-team conference, ahead of only Kansas.

Against the Racers of FCS? The Red Raiders are a five-touchdown favorite.

Texas Tech finished 7-6 last season, with their last three losses coming at the hands of Top 10 teams. After ending the regular season with a 3-point loss to Big 12 champion Baylor, the Raiders routed Mississippi State in the Liberty Bowl, 34-7.

Shough, who played 11 games for Oregon in 2019-20, won the Texas Tech starting job in 2021, but went down with a broken collarbone in the fourth game. He finished with 872 yards and six touchdowns on 64-of-92 passing, with three interceptions.

Shough was challenged in camp by a sophomore and a redshirt freshman, but ultimately was named the starter on Aug. 21. McGuire said the others would see some action, but the debate is over about the main man.

“I told Tyler, I said, ‘Look, you’re our starting quarterback, don’t look over your shoulder. Just realize, we’re going to have packages for these guys to come in and help us win games,’” McGuire told Lubbock television station KCBD.

Shough shrugged off the competition.

“There’s always somebody trying to replace you. … Really, I mean, every single practice, I felt like I got better, and I feel like I earned the job. I feel like I put our offense into position to be the most successful.”

Murray State is beginning its 75th and final season in the Ohio Valley Conference, set to join the Missouri Valley Conference in 2023.

The Racers were 6-5 overall last season (3-3 in the OVC) and are 11-7 and 8-5 in coach Dean Hood’s first two seasons.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback DJ Williams returns for Murray State after he threw for 1,020 yards and three touchdowns while rushing rushed for 532 yards and six scores.

Murray State ended last season on a three-game winning streak and Hood said he likes his team’s progress.

“Confidence is built, I think, in preparation, and our guys are starting to understand that,” he said. “It’s also something that is fragile. You can be the most confident team in the world and get punched in the mouth in game one and have to backtrack, but overall, I think our guys are in a good spot.”

–Field Level Media