On the opening weekend of the USFL season, the Houston Gamblers and the Michigan Panthers kick off the first of three Sunday games.
The Gamblers and Panthers will kick off the Sunday tripleheader at 12:00 pm EST as they will play their matchup from Protective Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama. For those watching on television, fans will be able to view the game on NBC or Peacock.
Houston announced Saturday morning that running back Devwah Whaley was placed on the practice squad. This could be problematic for the Gamblers as this would leave them with just two running backs on the roster. Should Dawkins not be available, it would leave Mark Thompson the only back on the roster for week one.
The good news for the Panthers is both Ray Bolden and Reggie Corbin were named to the practice squad so this will give them time to recover. Tight end Joey Magnifico is the only one on the active roster and appears to be good to go to play on Sunday.
Houston-Michigan Betting Odds
Michigan enters the game as -2.5 favorites over Houston heading into Sunday according to Fox Bet. Due to the potential that both offenses have in putting up big numbers, Fox also has an over/under on about 42.5 points total by both teams. If fans bet $100 on the game for Houston, they will get $125. As for Michigan, if fans bet $161, they will win $100 on the bet.
Three Things to Watch for Houston-Michigan Game
Sumlin-Fisher Coaching Showdown
Two of the biggest names in the USFL face off for the first time in their coaching careers with Houston’s Kevin Sumlin and Michigan’s Jeff Fisher. Both coaches have had successful careers leading teams either in college or the NFL each recording winning records.
Fisher’s career in the NFL made him a perfect candidate for the league due to the rebuilding jobs he did with the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans and the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams. He spent 17 seasons with Oilers/Titans leading them to the playoffs six times and a Super Bowl appearance. Fisher finished his NFL career winning 173 games in the regular season and five in the playoffs.
Sumlin was able to build the Houston Cougars program into a legitimate contender for four seasons before taking the Texas A&M coaching job. In six seasons with the Aggies, Sumlin never recorded a losing record in the regular season (51-26) or bowl season (3-2). While his three seasons at Arizona didn’t go well, his current college record has him at a 95-63 record in 13 seasons.
Quarterbacks Stealing the Show
First overall pick Shea Patterson will be leading the Michigan offense while Clayton Thorson will start at quarterback for the Gamblers. Both quarterbacks had successful college careers starting in the Big Ten. The two played against each other in college back in 2018 when Patterson’s Michigan team got the best of Thorson’s Northwestern team 20-17.
Patterson has high expectations of being the top quarterback drafted in the USFL Draft back in February. The skillset he possesses made him an intriguing starter in the league. He’s the type of quarterback who could use his legs to make plays, but from highlights in the preseason, he’s already showing that he’s got a good arm and accuracy down the field.
Thorson is another quarterback that can use his legs to make plays and has a nose for the end zone in short yards situations. His strength is more tailored to the short to middle range passes. He’ll enjoy being in shotgun often with Houston looking to be fast-paced and up-tempo throughout the game.
Which Defensive Star Steps Up: Walker or Summers?
Both teams have former XFL New York Guardians defensive stars who were considered the best in the league. Michigan has the XFL sack leader in defensive tackle Cavon Walker. Houston has one of the top shutdown corners of the XFL in cornerback Jamar Summers.
Walker has a nose for getting to the quarterback and will cause problems for the Houston offensive line. He was able to record 4.5 sacks in five games with the Guardians in the XFL back in 2020. Look for him to be a key factor in the defense as they try to get in the face of Thorson.
Not much gets past Summers in the passing game. His coverage skills were among one of the best in the XFL. Houston already has a strong front seven while some questions linger within the secondary. Summers will have to be the guy to step up and be a leader in the secondary.
There are a lot of unknowns with each team. We know about how individual players have played in the past, but how well will they do within a new league and a new system? One thing we know for sure is that Fisher and Sumlin will both have their teams ready to go.
One thing fans will have to keep in mind for week one: mistakes will be made. Expect there to be turnovers throughout the game. It’s going to be a matter of who can take advantage of the mistakes the most throughout the game.
Patterson and Thorson make for an interesting quarterback battle, but what playmakers will step up for them? Houston can rely on Mark Thompson and Dalyn Dawkins to help in the running and passing game. The Panthers can look at receiver Jeff Badet to be their top target and most reliable target. Either way, this should be an intriguing game with the offense going to be the show of the game.