After a 3-7 season last year, the new-look Houston Gamblers prepare for season two of the USFL season with the hopes of bringing home a title to Houston.
Last season was a combination of being on a wide roller coaster ride and a massive misrepresentation of what the record showed. The Gamblers got off to a fast start winning their first game of the season against the Michigan Panthers. After that point, it went downhill for the team as they lost seven straight games including five straight games where they blew fourth-quarter leads. They did finish the season with two straight wins against the Birmingham Stallions and the New Orleans Breakers.
The offseason saw a lot of change for Houston as they lost key defensive players like Chris Odom, Donald Payne, Reggie Northrup, and Will Likely. Receiver Isaiah Zuber also was lost after signing with the Las Vegas Raiders. One other massive loss for the team was head coach Kevin Sumlin and the majority of the coaching staff left the team.
Houston Gamblers 2023 Season Preview
USFL Title Betting Odds
The betting odds for the USFL title were released by Fox Bet this week giving the odds of what each team had for bringing home the championship trophy. As expected, Houston was ranked low on the list as they have the sixth-best odds to win the title at +600. The only teams they are ahead of are the Michigan Panthers and the Pittsburgh Maulers.
This was expected as Houston has been predicted by many to miss the playoffs again this season due to the turnover in the coaching staff and roster. What is encouraging is that betting experts still expect them to be better than Michigan and Pittsburgh, which could be due to the division Houston is in. New Jersey and Philadelphia are the favorites to make the playoffs in the north division, but the south division is more open and competitive. While Houston has the lowest odds in their division, betting experts feel they still have a shot.
Coaching Staff Breakdown
A week before the USFL College Draft, the Houston Gamblers named a new head coach after former leading man Kevin Sumlin took a job in college with Maryland as their co-offensive coordinator and tight end coach job. Former Tulane head coach Curtis Johnson was named the new head coach of the Gamblers as he was tasked with not only building a new coaching staff but preparing for the draft and constructing the roster he wanted. The good news though is he seemed to have checked every box on that list so far.
Offensive coordinator Eric Price has the task of developing Kenji Bahar to be the leading man at quarterback they need him to be. One good thing for Coach Price is he has a lot of returning players to the offense that should bring some continuity to a group that showed growth throughout the season. Having a strong offensive line and big-play receivers along with a bruising running back should see the offense take great strides this season.
Defensive coordinator Chris Wilson’s job is more difficult as he pretty much has a whole new defense to coach and get to work together. The front seven is all new with some experience in the secondary, but still not enough experience from last season’s team. Donald Payne, Reggie Northrup, Chris Odom, Will Likely, and Ahmad Gooden are all gone. If Wilson can find the right replacements for those players, Houston could be a sneaky good team.
Offensively, the strength of this team comes with their offensive line with four of the five starters returning for season two. Quarterback Kenji Bahar takes over as the full-time starting quarterback for Houston after going 2-1 as the starter last season. Running back Mark Thompson is looking to take a leap after finishing fifth in the USFL in rushing yards with 463. Receivers Teo Redding and Anthony Ratliff-Williams are expected to be top targets for Bahar in the passing game.
Defense is going through a massive transformation with the front seven being brand new. Watch for Tim Bonner and Damion Daniels to make an immediate impact on the defensive line. Safety Manny Bunch returns after recording 36 tackles which is the most of the returning defensive players. Jeremiah Johnson, Bydarrius Knighten, and Andrew Soroh are also back for the secondary.
The special teams are back intact for the most part at kicker and punter. Nick Vogel is back at kicker after converting 78 percent of his field goals last season. Punter Andrew Galitz returns after averaging over 44 yards a punt. There is a new long snapper though as Ross Reiter just joined the team this week after the team cut Cole Mazza.
2023 Schedule Breakdown
The first half of the Houston Gamblers’ schedule is going to be their toughest as they are on the road in three of their first five games of the season including road games against the New Orleans Breakers, Philadelphia Starts, and Birmingham Stallions. Houston starts their season at home against the Michigan Panthers in Memphis. The only other home game is against the Memphis Showboats, but with the game being played in Memphis, it’s hard to count it as a home game for Houston.
Their schedule in the second half gets better as they only leave Memphis once in week eight against the Pittsburgh Maulers. The rest of their games will be played in Memphis with home games against the New Jersey Generals, the Showboats again, the Stallions again, and the Breakers again.
When fans look at the overview of the Houston Gamblers, they see that this is a team that is going to lean heavily on the offense to score a lot and often. The good news is the weapons are there with a solid offensive line, deep backfield, and flyers at receiver. If Bahar can improve his accuracy and showcase his mobility more, this Houston offense could be dangerous.
The biggest weakness of this Houston team is their defense and lack of experience. There are many question marks on a unit that was among one the best in the 2022 season. Houston needs their new guys to step up right away and create turnovers.
In all reality, this is a massive challenge for Coach Johnson who inherited a team that had to rebuild more of its roster than other teams in the USFL. Fielding a team at this point is a win as the team hopes to pull off some wins. It would be hard to believe this team couldn’t steal a win against a team like Pittsburgh or Michigan. Expectations though should be held low as this is a team, that is the definition of a full rebuild mode.