The North Division champion New Jersey Generals are on a two-game collision course with the Philadelphia Stars starting this weekend. Legion Field will host what is shaping up to be a preseason-like affair between the Stars and Generals this coming Saturday. But the rematch a week later in Canton, Ohio, will determine who gets to compete for a 2022 USFL championship.
Before we delve into New Jersey’s playoff showdown with Philadelphia. And how both teams might handle the awkward exhibition-like game between them this coming weekend. Let’s take an abbreviated look back at the forgotten playoff past between the Generals and Stars.
Generals And Stars Have Shared USFL History
Because of litigation issues, the “New” USFL hasn’t been able to embrace its history. Modern-day fans have seen the current USFL season labeled as its inaugural one, with the “inaugural playoffs” on the horizon.
Sure the old United States Football League died a glorious death nearly four decades ago. But the three-year run of that league set the stage for all the American spring pro football leagues that have attempted to inhabit this space ever since. Including the very league FOX now owns and operates.
The Generals and Stars have a shared playoff history dating back to the original USFL.
After going 6-12 in the other USFL’s inaugural season in 1983, the New Jersey Generals made the playoffs twice in back-to-back years. In 1984, New Jersey was 14-4 but lost in the divisional round of the playoffs to the eventual USFL champion Philadelphia Stars.
One season later, The Generals went 11-7 in the regular season. But once again, they were one and done in the playoffs when their arch-nemesis, the now Baltimore Stars, eliminated them from playoff contention. That was the Generals’ final game until the league’s kind of resurrection in 2022.
The New Jersey Generals were really good back then, and the Stars were the franchise that prevented them from getting to the big game. Could history repeat itself in 2022?
Then Versus Now
The current version of the Generals, which has won eight straight games, looks like a legitimate championship contender. They have gotten better each week. New Jersey is 8-1, thanks to phenomenal coaching and leadership by head coach Mike Riley, offensive coordinator Steve Smith, and defensive coordinator Chris Dishman.
The Generals’ players have bought into their marching orders and have performed at a high level. The offense leads the league in yards per game, and the defense is second by one-tenth of a yard behind the 8-1 Birmingham Stallions. Not to be outdone is an emerging special teams unit, which leads the USFL in kick and punt return average.
Very quietly, though, the 6-3 Philadelphia Stars, led by Bart Andrus, have won four straight games. The Stars boast one of the league’s best passing attacks, thanks to Andrus’s play calling and the play of Case Cookus. The Stars have kept shooting for the sky with success despite losing league standout, Bryan Scott. Ironically, that occurrence occurred when Philly and New Jersey last met in Week 3.
In week three, the Generals rallied from behind to beat the Stars 24-16. New Jersey kept the Stars’ light dim by keeping their offense off the field. The Generals controlled the clock for nearly 37 minutes. A running theme for New Jersey all season long.
The Stars’ defense has had its fair share of struggles all season long, ranking near the bottom of the league. But their turnover ratio, +9, is tops in the USFL. Philly wasn’t at their best in Week 3 and will be underdogs when they face the Generals “for real” in the playoffs. It begs the question, what type of Stars team will New Jersey see in Canton, and certainly of lesser importance, what will they see in week 10?
Generals-Stars Preseason Like Week 10
I am sure that when the USFL schedule makers put together week 10, they hoped there would be something at stake between Philly and New Jersey in the final week. Unfortunately for the league, not only are the division crowns sewn up but so are all four playoff seeds.
As a result, the final week of the regular season in the USFL will have a unique feel. The players certainly have something to play for in terms of win bonuses and putting out great tape for future NFL opportunities.
There are also some statistical motivations for players. Generals RB Darius Victor and WR Kavontae Turpin would love to finish as leaders in their respective categories, rushing and receiving. Victor leads the league with nine touchdowns on the ground. (My fantasy team, “Pizza over Chicken Salad,” thanks him). Victor is 21 yards (543) behind Breakers RB Jordan Ellis for the USFL rushing title. KaVontae Turpin, at 472 yards receiving (tops in the USFL), is slightly ahead of the Panthers’ Lance Lenoir Jr. (452). Turpin also leads the league in punt return average (15.3) and yardage (184).
Statistical achievements for individual players are all well and good. But all four playoff teams should do everything in their power to stay healthy and be at their optimum best for the playoffs. The Generals Mike Riley and the Stars Bart Andrus need to prioritize winning in the playoffs over what has now become a meaningless season finale game.
However, treating the final game of the regular season as a preseason contest is easier said than done. Particularly in the USFL, because of smaller rosters consisting of only 40 active players on game day. Mike Riley and Bart Andrus need to get creative in setting their lineups and altering them in-game this Saturday.
I am sure that Mike Riley would love to shorten the game and get it over with in rapid fashion by running the ball as much as possible, perhaps with RB Kingston Davis seeing extensive work.
Although not yet official, it stands to reason that Saturday’s game could feature a showdown at QB between Kyle Lauletta and K.J. Costello. One way of combatting the roster limitations is dressing only one QB. Bart Andrus is no stranger to dressing only one quarterback; he did that for multiple weeks after Bryan Scott’s injury. Maurice Alexander, the former college QB turned wideout, was Philly’s emergency QB. The reason Andrus did was that he had to work around the USFL’s limited roster size.
Teams in the USFL have at their utilization a ten-player inactive/practice roster list before each game. Don’t be surprised if some of the key players for both teams end up there. But even still, the numbers game at only 40 players makes it difficult not to dress starters. Especially on the offensive line. So there will be a delicate balance of how long starters are kept in Saturday’s game.
It goes without saying that because Philly and NJ are playing each other in the playoffs, there will be no game-planning whatsoever in Week 10. However, Mike Riley spent Sunday evening scouting the Stars in person as they bested the one-win Maulers. The Generals will be seeing a lot of the Stars in the next two weeks, and they hope they don’t see them playing in the USFL championship game on July 3rd.