The USFL’s season is underway, and there was a lot to take in over the opening weekend. From rain/lightning delays pushing one game to Monday, low attendance after Saturday’s great turnout, someone getting cut over pizza, potential issues with golf ball-sized microchips making footballs more difficult to throw/kick, and more.
But we’re here to talk about the on-field product, and while the football definitely had its ups and downs throughout the weekend, there should be a lot to look forward to as the season continues.
1. Tampa Bay Bandits (Last Week: 1)
After a big win In their opening game over the Maulers, the Tampa Bay Bandits remain ranked number 1.
While the scoring fell off in the second half against a Maulers team that struggled mightily, the Bandits played smart, and despite throwing 2 interceptions, quarterback Jordan Ta’amu looked like he could be one of the league’s better quarterbacks out the gates. Pittsburgh made it known early they planned to run the ball, but Tampa Bay‘s defense held them in their tracks for most of the game.
Ta’amu ended the day having completed 20/32 passes for 185 yards, 1 touchdown, and 2 interceptions, also running the ball once for 7 yards. The team’s leading receiver was tight end Cheyanne O’Grady, who hauled in 8 receptions for 86 yards on the day. The Bandits’ only score through the air came from wide receiver Jordan Lasley, who ended the day with 3 receptions for 21 yards and 1 touchdown. Running back BJ Emmons led the team’s rushing attack, taking 19 carries for 40 yards and bringing in 3 receptions for 23 yards.
Ultimately, the Bandits looked like one of the more complete teams we saw all weekend despite slowing down in the second half. Week 2 should be a real test for Ta’amu as they’ll take on an extremely talented Breakers defense.
2. New Orleans Breakers (Last Week: 3)
The Breakers came out of Week 1 with a win against the Philadelphia Stars and take over the number 2 spot in the rankings.
The highlight of New Orleans team was defensive end Davin Bellamy and the rest of the Breakers’ defense. Bellamy recorded 3 sacks in the 1st quarter and supplied constant pressure on Stars quarterback Bryan Scott. Breakers running backs Jordan Ellis and TJ Logan were also bright spots for the team. Ellis rushed 18 times for 89 yards and 1 touchdown, while Logan ended the day with 15 carries for 56 yards and 1 touchdown, also hauling in 4 receptions for 38 yards.
While they did get the win, the biggest surprise might be the total lack of passing game, which had been hyped up since these teams first began practicing together. This could be because teams are still getting familiar with each other as they’ve only been practicing together for 3 weeks, but it was not what people expected regardless.
3. Philadelphia Stars (Last Week: 4)
The Philadelphia Stars take over the 3rd ranked spot after a close loss to the New Orleans Breakers.
Stars quarterback Bryan Scott played a much better offensive game than his opponent, but unfortunately, some mistakes on special teams and some great plays by the Breakers’ defense led to their demise.
On the bright side, Bryan Scott played a pretty efficient game, excluding an early interception that was returned for a touchdown. Additionally, the Stars have a lot of good-skill position players in running backs Matt Colburn II and Darnell Holland, along with wide receivers Devin Gray, Chris Rowland, and tight end Bug Howard, to name a few.
Despite being tested by a high-powered defense, this team played well in Week 1 and will remain a threat to their upcoming opponents.
4. Birmingham Stallions (Last Week: 6)
The Birmingham Stallions kicked off the season with style, and while it wasn’t always pretty, good defense and some solid play by quarterback J’Mar Smith late in the game got them the win. Smith would be filling in for the injured Alex McGough, who suffered a leg injury earlier in the game.
J’Mar Smith scored the game’s winning touchdown on a quarterback run, but the highlight of the Stallions’ offense was wide receiver Osirus Mitchell, who ended the day with 5 receptions for 96 yards and 1 touchdown. Another bright spot for Birmingham’s offense was wide receiver Victor Bolden Jr, who hauled in 4 receptions for 45 yards.
While things weren’t always pretty, this team showed a lot to be excited about in the coming weeks. It’ll be interesting to see who gets the start at quarterback in week 2 assuming McGough’s leg is healed.
5. New Jersey Generals (Last Week: 5)
The New Jersey Generals remain in the 5th ranked spot after a tough loss to the Birmingham Stallions in the league’s opening game.
Quarterback Luis Perez got the start for the Generals, but head coach Mike Riley would use a 2 quarterback system, with De’Andre Johnson getting a handful of packages, as well as having the opportunity to close out the game. The team seemed to lean on Perez in the passing game and Johnson in the running game, but Mike Riley benched Perez and left Johnson in at quarterback when the Generals needed their passing game the most. Johnson couldn’t get the job done in the game’s final minutes, and the Stallions came away with the win.
Perez ended the day having completed 13/18 passes for 143 yards and 2 touchdowns, with De’Andre Johnson only completing 3/8 passes for 59 yards but taking 12 carries for 98 yards and 1 touchdown.
The Generals have the tools to be competitive and were very much that in the 1st half of the game. Unfortunately, the game plan seemed to change in the second half, leading to the Generals’ eventual demise. It’ll be interesting to see what the plan at quarterback is moving forward, as each guy brings a very different skillset.
6. Houston Gamblers (Last Week: 8)
I’m glad I get to eat my words about the Houston Gamblers after their dominant win over the Panthers, but their offense struggled at times by the hand of quarterback Clayton Thorson.
Houston had some help from the struggling Panthers’ offense for most of the 1st half, and they looked a bit gassed in the second half. However, the Gamblers played well enough late to hold onto their lead and take the win.
Thorson ended the day having completed 9/17 passes for 73 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception, also taking 13 carries for 71 yards. The highlight of the team was the Gamblers’ defense anchored by linebackers Donald Payne and Reggie Northrup. Payne finished the day with 19 tackles and a pass deflection, while Northrup totaled 11 tackles and recovered a fumble, bringing it back 95 yards for a touchdown.
Like many of the other USFL teams in Week 1, Houston has a lot to clean up, but they’re looking more promising than I gave them credit for in previous rankings. Their next matchup against the Stallions on Saturday should be a good one.
7. Michigan Panthers (Last Week: 7)
I’m not quite sure what the Michigan Panthers were doing on Sunday, but it wasn’t good.
The 1st half of their game against the Gamblers was one of the worst halves of football I’ve ever seen, with nobody on the team able to do anything right. Quarterback Shea Patterson got the start but struggled heavily, and when Paxton Lynch replaced him for a brief period, Lynch actually managed to play even worse than Patterson. After going down 17-0 in the 1st half in an extremely embarrassing fashion, the Panthers started to claw their way back into things after halftime.
When the team came out of the locker room and hit the field for the 3rd quarter, they finally started waking up a bit, with Patterson beginning to get in a rhythm. Unfortunately, they didn’t turn things around quickly enough and fell short.
If the Panthers can build off what they were doing in the second half of their game against Houston, they may have a chance against the Generals in week 2. However, this team has a lot to work on right now.
8. Pittsburgh Maulers (Last Week: 2)
The Maulers have had a rough week. Between the internets backlash against coach Kirby Wilson releasing running back De’Veon Smith over pizza vs. a chicken salad, to their team getting spanked on Monday night football by the Tampa Bay Bandits.
The game against the Bandits couldn’t end quick enough, with running backs Garrett Groshek and Madre London running into a wall for the entire game. As the 1st half progressed, Kirby Wilson leaned harder into the run game despite the less than effective rushing attack, showcasing his evident lack of play-calling experience. He didn’t begin to make noticeable adjustments or work the passing game much until it was too late.
Pittsburgh will have an uphill battle the rest of the season.