In June of 2021, the United States Football League announced itself as a new football league that would take place in the springtime. While it shares the same name and the league owns old trademarks from the 1983 league with the same name, there is no legal connection between the league as it is now and the original league.
Generals, Stallions Headline Week 1 Action
The New Jersey Generals believe they got the right man to lead the crusade when the team hired former San Diego Chargers head coach Mike Riley. While Riley’s career coaching in the NFL left more to be desired, he had quite a bit of success in the Canadian and college ranks, including six bowl wins at Oregon State.
Riley also coached in the Alliance of American Football league, a springtime football league that sprouted but folded in its inaugural season in 2018, and was the offensive coordinator for the Seattle Dragons of the XFL in 2019.
The Generals will be a 3-point underdog when it takes on the Birmingham Stallions Saturday evening with the total set at 42.5.
The Generals had quite the setback in early April when the draft’s No. 4 overall pick Ben Holmes broke his pinky toe, leading to his release. With only one other quarterback on the roster, the team brought in Luis Perez. Perez was the starting quarterback for the Birmingham Iron of the AAF. He had a few flashes, but nothing eye-popping.
It remains unclear whether it will be Perez or former Florida standout De’Andre Johnson starting under center. Johnson isn’t great at passing, but he can do what Perez can’t, and that’s run.
Former Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz will lead the Stallions. Holtz, the son of legendary coach Lou Holtz, had quite the successful tenure at Louisiana Tech, where he amassed a record of 64-50 with six bowl wins, all coming in consecutive seasons from 2014-2019.
At quarterback, the Stallions took Alex McGough with the sixth selection in the first round. A four-year starter at Florida International, McGough took on Holtz’s Bulldogs twice, falling both times. McGough finished his college career with just over 9,000 career passing yards with 65 touchdowns to go with 37 interceptions.
Birmingham is a -150 betting favorite with the Generals a +130 underdog and the total set for 42½
Gamblers Take on the Panthers
The offense of the Houston Gamblers (+2½) could prove to be the best of the weekend, as Kevin Sumlin brings his spread attack with him. Houston has always loved Sumlin and his spread offense, going back to the days when Case Keenum was nothing short of slinging the ball around for absurd statistics. In that offense, Keenum finished with 44 or more touchdowns three times, over 5,000 yards three times, and a completion percentage of 70 or more twice.
Enter former Northwestern standout Clayton Thorson. The 6-foot-4 Thorson was a four-year starter at Northwestern, where he finished with a 36-17 career record with over 10,000 career passing yards..
Thorson was a fifth-round draft pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2019 before spending some time on the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad. He did appear on the regular-season roster for the New York Giants last season as well.
Sumlin has proven that, when he has his quarterback, he can win and will put up some fun statistics doing so.
The Michigan Panthers might have the most recognizable names of any team in the USFL lines.
Led by head coach Jeff Fisher, the Michigan Panthers enter the season tied for the best odds to take home the championship. Fisher won over 170 games in his coaching career and brought his team to the Super Bowl, where the Tennessee Titans fell heartbreakingly short in what became known as “The Tackle ” by the St. Louis Rams’ Mike Jones to keep Kevin Dyson out of the end zone as time expired.
The team drafted former Michigan Wolverines QB Shea Patterson. Later, they also selected Paxton Lynch, who was a bust as a first-round pick of the Denver Broncos.
This game could prove to be the highest-scoring of the weekend. The total is set at 43½. Michigan is a -145 favorite on the moneyline with Houston as a +125 underdog.
Breakers Aiming for the Stars
The Philadelphia Stars are led by Bart Andrus, who was a graduate assistant at BYU in 1984 before landing his first head coaching gig at Rocky Mountain College. After one year, he became an offensive assistant and later quarterbacks coach for then-Tennessee Oilers.
He was a head coach for NFL Europe and won two championships there. He recently coached in The Spring League, a farm league for the XFL.
Lining up under center will likely be Bryan Scott. Scott didn’t play major college football anywhere. He played for Occidental College in Los Angeles, a Division III school. He has accolades from the International Federation of American Football, but nothing from any league a casual fan would know.
The Stars gave Andrus a lot of slack selecting this team. While Andrus hasn’t coached in many big-time programs, he was able to select players he already has experience with, out of some of the other smaller leagues around the country. The Stars might have the least name recognition of any team in this league. But will it matter?
The New Orleans Breakers enter as one of the teams figured to be in the running for the championship.
The Breakers are led by former Southern Miss and North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora. Fedora led Southern Miss to a bowl appearance every season he was there and went 2-2 with a 34-19 overall record. Fedora went 45-43 with a 28-28 record in the ACC with the Tar Heels. He finished 1-3 in bowl games.
Kyle Sloter, the team’s first choice in the first round at eighth overall, will likely be the starting quarterback. Sloter also went to Southern Miss, but Fedora was gone by the time Sloter got there. He struggled before losing his scholarship, forcing him to transfer to Northern Colorado.
In one season as Northern Colorado’s starting quarterback, he finished with 29 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions with a completion percentage of 62.1.
The Breakers are a 2½-point favorite and are -140 on the moneyline. The total is set at 44.
Bandits and Maulers Close Week 1
In the final game of the weekend, the Tampa Bay Bandits will take on the Pittsburgh Maulers Sunday evening.
The Tampa Bay Bandits are led by former Kansas City Chiefs head coach and former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
Haley will once again be blessed with a good offense as Jordan Ta’amu, former Ole Miss standout looks to be almost a perfect match.
Ta’amu had an impressive senior season as the full-time starter. He finished with 3,918 passing yards and 19 touchdowns to just eight interceptions with a completion percentage of 63.6.
Paired with Haley, this sounds like a great situation for Ta’amu. But it’s almost certain he won’t have the talent level around him in Tampa Bay as he had in Oxford when he had D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown, Elijah Moore, and Dawson Knox.
As for Pittsburgh, the Maulers will be led by the relatively unproven Kirby Wilson, who has never been a head coach anywhere. He comes from the Mike Tomlin coaching tree, so he’s promising, but it will be interesting to see how he navigates some of the responsibilities that come with being a head coach.
Under center will be former Richmond standout and New York Giants draftee Kyle Lauletta, who was a fourth-round selection by the Giants in 2018. Since then, he’s seen time on numerous practice squads.
Lauletta finished his Richmond career as a three-year starter, amassing 73 touchdowns to 45 interceptions with a 63.5 completion percentage and over 10,000 career passing yards.
The Bandits are a 4-point favorite and -180 on the moneyline. The total is set at 41½.
The USFL isn’t just aiming to be a spring football league. In some ways, it’s hoping to be a pioneer to change how the game can be played.
One example is the extra point. In the USFL odds, you can choose to for three points following a touchdown. To get the three points a team must convert a successful attempt from the 10-yard line with the full offense.
The league is also using a different technology to track first downs. Gone are the days of the chain gain. It’s all digital now.
One rule that has good intentions but may not end up being the best for the league is the replay system. On top of all of the usual plays that can be challenged from the NFL, pass interference beyond 15 yards, defenseless players and roughing the passer penalties can all be challenged now. Will it slow the game down?
The clock will stop on first downs inside of two minutes in each half.
Onside kicks will see a new possibility. While a team can choose a traditional onside kick attempt, the team goes for it on what would be considered a 4th-and-12 from their 33-yard line. Failure to convert would give the opposing team the ball on the spot.
Viewing options spread out
The games will be on a variety of networks this weekend. In what could be described as uncommon, both NBC and Fox will have media teams on location and broadcast teams live from the New Jersey Generals and Birmingham Stallions game. The game can also be streamed live on NBC’s streaming platform Peacock.
The Houston Gamblers and Michigan Panthers kick off at noon on Sunday on NBC. The 4 p.m. game between the Stars and Breakers will be on the USA Network, with the final game of the weekend between Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh on FS1.