The first week of the 2023 USFL season is in the books. Two of the USFL’s top teams from 2022 flexed their muscle to start year two. While some others got off to a rocky start.
Let’s see how all USFL teams stack up after week one.
USFL 2023: Post-Week One Power Rankings
#1: Birmingham Stallions (1-0)
The 2022 USFL Champion Birmingham Stallions were back in style on Saturday night, knocking off the New Jersey Generals relatively easily with a 27-10 victory at home. In perhaps an omen matching last season. Skip Holtz’s team started this season like in 2022, winning at home against New Jersey. Except for this time, the champs severely outmatched Mike Riley’s squad.
It wasn’t a perfect opening night but any stretch for the Stallions. Specifically when it comes to key players getting injured. Birmingham lost star receiver Marlon Williams for the season, and quarterback J’Mar Smith got dinged up. But the Stallions produced a complete team effort on Saturday. And players like quarterback Alex McGough stepped up when needed.
#2: Philadelphia Stars (1-0)
Just like the Stallions, who have returned their leadership structure and many top players from 2022. No one is surprised to see the Philadelphia Stars back in top form for season two. Memphis put up a fight in their home opener against last year’s runner-up in the championship game. But it was Philly’s superstars who shined brightest in the Stars’ 27-23 victory on Saturday.
Against the Showboats, the Stars’ defense displayed some of the same issues they had a year ago, allowing big plays down the field while still applying tremendous pressure and forcing turnovers. It’s the trade-off. However, for Philly to be better this year, there will need to be more balanced defensively.
Bart Andrus’s Stars will be playing the Michigan Panthers in Canton this coming Sunday night.
#3: New Orleans Breakers (1-0)
It didn’t start ideally, and there were some hiccups along the way. But the Breakers started their 2023 campaign positively, beating the Maulers 22-15. The team’s new leadership tandem of head coach John DeFilippo and quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson showed promising signs that better days could be ahead.
Both MBT and Coach DeFilippo showed a lot of grit in Week One. A coach battling his way through physical pain to lead. And a journeyman quarterback returning to the States after a successful run-up north for one last ride.
The Breakers game was surprisingly closer than it should have been, considering how much they outplayed Pittsburgh at the line of scrimmage—outgaining the Maulers by nearly two hundred yards and possessing the football for almost 40 minutes. But there was enough of a sample in Week One to believe that the best is yet to come from New Orleans.
The Breakers will get a chance to continue building upon week one when they face the Houston Gamblers.
#4: Michigan Panthers (1-0)
After winning only two games a year ago under Jeff Fisher, the Panthers look much improved from last season. In his second season with Michigan, Offensive Coordinator Eric Marty was one of the few bright spots for last year’s team, and his hard work has paid off to start the season.
On defense, Breeland Speaks made his presence known with three sacks, seven tackles, and one forced fumble, and he seems like a shoo-in for defensive player of the week in the USFL. There were a lot of positives coming out of week one for Michigan.
The Panthers will be tested more than they were in week one against Houston, and they face a significant challenge this coming weekend against Philadelphia. But the tide may be turning for Michigan in 2023.
#5: Memphis Showboats (0-1)
The former Tampa Bay Bandits have a new lease on life in Memphis. And Todd Haley’s squad showed some progress in the Showboats debut at home against a top team in Philly. Despite falling 27-23 to the Stars.
The Showboats’ defense and special teams struggled to keep Case Cookus and Chris Rowland in check. Something that will be a recurring theme for many teams that face Philly this year. The play of the Stars’ top players decided the game in Week One. However, Memphis had a respectable showing for itself in week one. The Showboats will try to build off that in Week 2 against another top USFL team in Birmingham. Not an easy task, but another good measuring stick game for Haley’s bunch.
#6: New Jersey Generals (0-1)
The naysayers and doubters of the New Jersey Generals heading into 2023 feel vindicated after watching Mike Riley’s team in the season opener. The Generals do not look close to the same team they were a season ago, falling hard to the Stallions 27-10 in week one.
Perhaps, one shouldn’t overreact to the Generals facing the buzzsaw of the champs in their building and losing in such a decisive fashion. Nevertheless, New Jersey sure looked like they were missing star players from last season greatly, such as KaVontae Turpin, DeVaunte Bausby, Luis Perez, Darrius Shepherd, DeJuan Neal, etc.
The problem was that the Generals returning star players like DeAndre Johnson didn’t play well in the opener. Johnson was only 4/13 for 29 yards passing. At times, New Jersey moved the ball well, mostly with new arrival Dakota Prukop (13/17 148 yards). But their failure to finish drives and two turnovers did them in.
New Jersey’s defense, coordinated by a returning original General in Ted Cottrell, did a good job slowing down Birmingham’s running backs but fell victim to the running of QB Alex McGough.
It wasn’t a great night for the Generals. But the positive is that it only counts as one loss. Mike Riley’s troops must regroup as they play their first divisional game against the Maulers in Canton this Sunday.
#7: Pittsburgh Maulers (0-1)
The good news is that the Maulers were involved in a competitive game that came right down to the wire against New Orleans. The bad news is that Pittsburgh’s offense showed the same ineptitude they did last season, accumulating only 156 yards of total offense. QB’s James Morgan and Troy Williams were a combined 10 of 27, completing only 37 percent of their passes for a putrid 81 yards.
On a positive note, Ray Horton’s team played hard on defense. Registering four sacks, and held New Orleans to five field goals before the Breakers broke through late with a game-deciding touchdown.
Alabama standout and former NFL linebacker Reuben Foster made a massive impact in his USFL debut with 12 tackles and a forced fumble that led to a defensive touchdown. The Maulers will need those kinds of impact plays from Foster to remain competitive this season.
Pittsburgh has a chance to be more respectable than they were in 2022. And they will get an opportunity to continue showing that when they play in their new shared playing hub with New Jersey this coming weekend.
#8: Houston Gamblers (0-1)
To quote the legendary late Dennis Green. The Gamblers are who I thought they were. Before the season, I ranked Houston as last in my rankings because of talent/coaching losses during the offseason and uncertainty in so many areas of the team.
In Week One, they lived down to their low expectations. The Gamblers turned the ball over four times, generated only 194 yards on offense, and allowed four sacks. Defensively, Houston allowed over 300 yards of offense, but more notably, their secondary was picked apart by Michigan’s two passers, who nearly completed every pass they threw. Josh Love was 19 of 21, and Carson Strong was five for five.
Only one way to go, but up after this performance for Curtis Johnson’s team, who will look to rebound against the New Orleans Breakers in week two.
April 17, 2023 at 9:58 am
I like this list – On the money.
One thing about the NJ game was Generals had almost 200 yds rushing and 350 total and only 10 pts. I hate to say it But Holtz out coached Riley in this one. That goal line stop and shotgun formation make me cringe. Two times turnover on downs in FG range on the road… Lots of mistakes.
But those can be corrected. The fact they moved the ball should result in wins against teams with inferior offenses aka Pitt/Houston and compete against the rest. But no more coaching snafus please
April 17, 2023 at 1:56 pm
I agree with 4th & Long regarding the coaching snafus. They almost seemed so bad that I almost feel Mike Riley was testing his team to see if he could learn something about his squad. I don’t know if they will be able to overcome some of the losses, but I had watched Cam Luper- Echols tapes at the same time I watched Kavonte Turpin’s and Deandre Johnson’s Sea Lions’s tapes and he could play. Interestingly enough when last year started, i said I couldn’t believe noone picked him up. Right after that Mike Riley did. So I have faith in him that he can pick out who should and shouldn’t be on the field.