The day is finally here. After the AAF (2019) and XFL (2020) failed to complete their seasons — for some reasons out of their control — the reinvented USFL will actually complete its inaugural spring campaign when the Birmingham Stallions and Philadelphia Stars meet on Sunday.
And the USFL Championship should bring pretty excitement, as these teams were the highest-scoring offenses in the league despite both switching quarterbacks midway through the year.
It's not a major surprise that these teams would meet in the finals. The Stallions stuck out all season as the de facto home team, with all 40 regular-season games played in Birmingham. With the limited crowds cheering them on, they had the league's best point differential at +65 in the regular season, two touchdowns more than any other team.
The Stars were underdogs in the Semifinals against the 9-1 New Jersey Generals, but they've been dangerous all season as the league's best offense. Even when quarterback Bryan Scott went down with a season-ending knee injury, Case Cookus has stepped up and then some.
In its previous iteration, the last two USFL championships belonged to the Philadelphia Stars and Baltimore Stars. Will history repeat itself, or can the hometown Stallions bring a championship back to Birmingham?
USFL Championship: Birmingham (10-1) vs. Philadelphia (7-4)
Kickoff: Sunday, July 3 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium (Canton, Ohio)
Spread: Stallions -4.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Philadelphia stop Birmingham's rushing attack?
Perhaps the most impactful player on the Stallions joined the team after Week 4, but he's immediately made his presence known. That would be former Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough, who is third in the USFL with 58.7 rushing yards per game on 4.2 yards per attempt.
But the hulking rusher is just one part of the team's four-headed attack. CJ Marable is eighth in the league with 401 rushing yards and third with five scores on the ground, and Tony Brooks-James has been the most efficient of the group at 5.7 ypa. That's not to mention dual-threat J'Mar Smith, who is fourth among quarterbacks in rushing yards despite being limited throughout the year by injuries.
No USFL team gave up more yardage on the ground this season than Philadelphia, which is going to present quite the problem. The Stars will have to show up like they did last week, when they held New Jersey to 105 yards on 35 carries, to have a shot at winning.
2. Red zone defense and turnovers
These are keys to any matchup, but this is an area in which Philadelphia may have a distinct advantage. And Birmingham struggled in both areas in its lone loss of the season, a 17-15 nailbiter to Houston in Week 9.
In that loss to Houston, Birmingham lost the turnover battle 1-0. While not a blowout in that department, the Stallions are only at +1 on the season. Compare that to Philly, which has a league-leading +8 differential thanks to 13 interceptions. Smith will have to be extra cautious, although his 2.5 percent interception rate was already third-lowest among USFL passers with more than 100 attempts.
Birmingham also struggled in the red zone and did not come up with a touchdown in three trips against Houston. Watch out for linebacker Jordan Moore, although if any defensive players are going to come up big in this game, it's likely to be Birmingham's DeMarquis Gates and Jonathan Newsome, who are 1-2 in the league in sacks.
3. Will either team finally get creative?
The USFL has introduced a plethora of new rules to make the games more exciting, and teams have been slow to dip their toes into those waters. Some have been more aggressive than others, but this is the last chance to capitalize on the USFL's quirks.
The Stars were actually the first team to go for a three-point play, which is a single play from the 10-yard line after a touchdown. But otherwise, these teams have been fairly vanilla. They're last in the league in fourth-down attempts, with a combined 11 during the regular season.
Will head coaches Skip Holtz (Birmingham) or Bart Andrus (Philadelphia) be bold when a title is on the line? They both come from an offensive background, so fans can only hope.
On paper, Birmingham is the clear favorite. The Stallions have been the best team all season and won the regular-season matchup between these teams 30-17 in Week 5, even though both have changed quite a bit since then. The Stars will need a break or two to go their way to pull this one off, but they've already done that this postseason.
Athlon Editors' and Contributors' USFL Championship Predictions