It’s official ladies and gentlemen USFL season is set to kick off on April 16 once again for the second season in a row. Nestled right on top of the XFL playoffs, and just weeks before the NFL draft kicks off, the USFL has some intriguing games early in 2023. Hooking fans and keeping them invested with the XFL finishing their season will be tough, so placing premium matchups early makes a lot of sense.
The Philadelphia Stars kick off their season on the road versus the newly rebranded Memphis Showboats in Memphis. This will be a must-watch game for many fans curious to see how Memphis receives its new franchise. If the attendance is paltry questions will immediately arise about the future of the league in the city despite the three-year arrangement that the USFL has with Memphis. This game is on April 15th a Saturday. Beginning at 4:30 pm eastern time, the Stars certainly have their work cut out for them with the run game of the Showboats.
Adding names like Alex Collins, David Hamm, and Justin Stockton to the fold while losing Bj Emmons to the CFL. The quarterback position for both teams remain question marks as of right now with the Stars only having one Quarterback on the roster, and Memphis holding an open competition with former XFL and TSL QB Ryan Willis, Cole Kelley, and Brady White a Memphis alum.
One thing that stuck out at first glance is that for week two, the Stars will host the Panthers for a home game in Canton, at Tom Benson stadium. Despite these teams calling Ford Field home in 2023, a Luke Combs concert led to this ripple in the pond. Honestly, it could prove to be more of a home-field advantage for the Stars in Canton than in Detroit, where the Panthers also reside.
This also means Canton will host two games that week, getting a slight revenue bump for the city early in the season. The league did throw both teams a bone by putting the game in prime time at 7 pm ET on a Sunday evening. This game should pull solid ratings.
These two teams currently might have the two biggest question marks at quarterback of any USFL team. With Paxton Lynch in Orlando and no sign of Bryan Scott or Case Cookus re-signing yet, it’ll be interesting to see if we are gearing up for a Kevin Thomson versus Josh Love matchup in week two.
Week Three “”Clash of the Keystone State 2023 pt. 1”
My co-host on Spring Football Reports, coined this “The Clash of the Keystone State” last season and it is just too fitting not to use it again and again. The Stars finally see their first true home game in week three on April 30th at noon ET. This will again be a must-watch game to see how Detroit handles playing host to two teams. Do we see a similar outcome to last season when Birmingham seemed to favor their team? Attendance numbers were regularly in the 1000s for the Stallions but measured by the handful in other matchups.
Talk to any fan that is on the fence about the USFL and you’re sure to hear talk of attendance, and its effect on their views of the league. A great point made by my colleague @NFLQBTalk is that by moving to four cities there is a higher likelihood for the cities to better support both their teams. Having 8 teams and 40 games in one city was a lot for any city. With that stress now placed on four cities could we immediately see better attendance for across the board?
On May 6th at 1 pm eastern time, the Stars will face the Kevin Sumlin-led Houston Gamblers. In this game I’m watching how the completely rebuilt coaching staff works together and If there are any growing pains as the staff gets to know each other. With just two assistant coaches returning from last year’s staff, all the new faces, and philosophies could prove to be an interesting storyline. By week four the Gamblers should be hitting their stride as a staff and beginning to gel as a team, or showing us that the changes are too much to overcome.
The rushing attack of Mark Thompson is another factor in this game that will decide whether the Stars win or lose in week four. Thompson was one of the most productive backs in the league last season. If Houston can find stability at center and utilize the mobility found in their quarterback room, the Stars could be looking at their toughest matchup of the year so far. Houston lost 7 games last season, but in many of those games, their defense kept them in it. With Chris Odom, Dominique Davis, Will Likely, Donald Payne, Reggie Northrup, and more moving on the Star’s offense may be able to exploit this turnover.
In week five we get a rematch of the North division Championship game. This also marks the fourth of five straight home games Philadelphia will play in the middle of the season. This will be a true test of home-field advantage and how much it matters in the USFL when you’re a secondary team in these cities. Does Philly see a midseason run of success or is it business as usual no matter where they play?
This game falls on Sunday at noon eastern time. The Generals could easily be the best team in the USFL in 2023. If DeAndre Johnson can come out firing as the full-time starter, this Generals squad has all the makings of a top-three offense. The bigger questions lie on defense where the Generals lost Cris Dishman as the defensive coordinator. Several players were lost to the XFL specifically on the defensive side of the ball. If the Stars can exploit these new faces on defense there is a chance they come out on top in this game. However, I expect this to be a tight game. If I had to guess at this point the Stars are either 3-2 or 4-1.
Week six completes two different trends for the Stars in their schedule. Not only are they finishing up a five-game stretch of home games, but they are also finishing up four straight early games. Matching up with the Breakers on Sunday, May 21st at noon ET. The Breakers are entering 2023 with a new head coach, and two new quarterbacks at the top of the depth chart.
One of their strengths last season was their defensive line which was led by former Philadelphia Eagle Shariff Miller, and Davin Bellamy, as well as coach Paul Spicer. However, all three men left for the XFL this off-season. This will be an area to watch as a potential weakness for the Breakers. If the Stars can lean on their run game with Dexter Williams and Matt Colburn there is a good chance they can come out of this game with a victory.
Week Seven “Clash of the Keystone State 2023 pt. 2”
The first repeat opponent of the season for the Stars, they face their divisional foe the Pittsburgh Maulers. Yet another trend emerges from this game. The Stars will face all three divisional opponents over the last four weeks of the season. This could make a fast start for the Stars incredibly important if they deal with the same kind of injury attrition they had toward the playoff run last year.
This matchup with the Maulers lands on Saturday, May 27th, at 9 pm eastern time at Tom Benson stadium, the Stars’ home away from home. This will be the fourth time the Stars have played at Tom Benson Stadium dating back to last season. With that being said they will have played more games in the stadium the Maulers call home than they have. This will be the Maulers’ third home game of the season and they did not appear in the playoffs last year.
The Stars travel to Birmingham for a rematch of the 2022 Championship game. The Stallions have been one of the teams that were able to keep their 2022 quarterback, and he will only continue to build on his relationship with Skip Holtz. This is a team I expect to be dangerous once again in 2023. It wouldn’t shock me in the slightest to start the season with another extended undefeated run.
This game kicks off at 3 pm eastern time, on June 3rd. This could also spell the first time since the USFL returned that the Stars lose back-to-back games. In this game, my biggest concern is once again the Stars’ ability to stop the run. Bo Scarbrough gashed our defense for 135 yards and 1 touchdown on just 13 carries in the championship game. If the defense allows him to do this again finding victory will be tough in week eight.
The Stars will face their division rival Generals this time as the away team. Another Sunday game, kickoff is at 7 pm eastern time. I prefaced my feelings on this game in the week eight game. The Generals as a team look to be among the best teams in the league in 2023. Darius Victor, and Trey Williams when healthy are a nearly unstoppable duo, add in the mobility of DeAndre Johnson, and I’m not the least bit concerned that Luis Perez now plays for the Vegas Vipers.
The Stars’ focus this season has to be on stopping the run and limiting missed tackles. Coach Miller mentioned how he measures his success as a coach by his unit getting better and better as the season goes on. The Stars are hoping his unit can peak at the right time for matchups with Birmingham and New Jersey in back-to-back weeks. At this point I expect the Stars to sit at 6-3 after two losses. This will most likely mean a victory in week ten is still necessary to clinch the playoffs.
The final game of the season is another divisional match-up. The Stars play the Panthers in Ford Field this time. This could be another tough game if the crowd gets involved. I expect Detroit to support the Panthers quite heavily, 15,000 fans isn’t out of the question in my mind. Philadelphia fans will travel to see Eagles games with playoff implications will they have enough ties to the team to counteract any home-field advantage the Panthers have? Doubtful. This is one area the league needs to improve. I understand the financial aspects of limited hubs, but the cost wouldn’t be astronomical to advertise in these cities and hold fan events, you have to prepare these markets for more football not just assume fans will come.
This game falls on Sunday, June 18th at 7 pm eastern time. Finishing the season with two late games in front of what is hopefully a large tv audience. At this point, this game could be the deciding factor in playoff seeding. Could the Stars and Panthers be playing for the first seed? Or could one team be priding itself on playing the spoiler? So many questions to answer over a 3 month season it’ll be impossible to lose interest in 2023.