On Saturday night, the latest rendition of the USFL will return to action after a 37-year absence in front of a national television audience. The New Jersey Generals will battle it out against the hometown Birmingham Stallions at Protective Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama. The USFL will play all its games in Birmingham as the league looks to establish itself financially with the backing of FOX, which has put up $200 million to jump-start the league.
Related: What You Need to Know About the USFL
New Jersey looks to be a bubble playoff team under the direction of head coach Mike Riley, who last served as offensive coordinator for the Seattle Dragons in the short-lived XFL. Luis Perez is the Generals' starting quarterback and will be looking to build upon his experience in the AAF and XFL and attempt to provide stability at quarterback. De'Andre Johnson is a potential starter this week at quarterback and, if he plays, will provide a quality dual-threat option for this offense. Mike Weber is the primary running back, and he will have something to prove in his quest to find a way back to the NFL after earning a Super Bowl ring with the Chiefs in 2020. So, look for an emphasis on offense right out of the gate with the Generals.
Skip Holtz is the head coach for Birmingham, and he is a veteran of the college football coaching scene, with his last stop coming as head coach at Louisiana Tech (2013-21). Holtz will lean on Alex McGough as his starting quarterback to jump-start the Stallions' offense and ignite the home crowd. McGough has spent time on some NFL rosters with teams like the Seattle Seahawks but is still looking to break through in a big way. Scooby Wright is the headline player on defense at linebacker who won several national awards during his 2014 junior year at Arizona. Wright spent some time in the NFL but was never able to replicate the success that he had in Tucson.
New Jersey at Birmingham
Kickoff: Sat, Apr. 16 at 7:30 pm ET
Where: Protective Stadium (Birmingham, Ala.)
Spread: Stallions -1.5
Three Things to Watch
1. New Jersey offense
Consistency will be a key to victory for the Generals' offense, as this unit needs to stay on schedule and avoid negative plays. When Riley's teams have had success at any level, it's been a combination of running the football and sound decision-making by the quarterback. The offensive line and its ability to control the line of scrimmage will be key as it will take pressure off Perez when he drops back. Also, look for Weber to get around 20 carries, and if he can grind out close to 100 yards, that would be a plus for the offense. Perez needs to take care of the football and find his open receivers to keep the chains moving on offense. Another thing to watch is how often they utilize the two forward passes behind the line of scrimmage on offense that are allowed under USFL's unique rule changes. That is one way that Riley can draw something creative up to get the ball to former TCU wide receiver Kavontae Turpin, who could be electric in open space.
2. Birmingham offense
It will be fun to watch Holtz make the transition to the new league/rules because he also will handle the duties of offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for his Stallions. Holtz does have a potentially explosive weapon in wide receiver Victor Bolden Jr., so look for the head coach to let McGough air it out early to get Bolden involved immediately. Bolden spent two years in the NFL as a returner for three teams after starring at Oregon State. Third down is another key to success on offense for the Stallions this week, where the running game could be called on to help keep the offense on the field.
3. New Jersey defense
Chris Orr comes into the USFL as one of the better linebackers in the league after starting for three years at Wisconsin and earning second-team All-Big Ten recognition as a senior in 2019. However, the best player on this defense should be De'Vante Bausby, who played for Riley with the AAF's San Antonio Commanders. Bausby has a knack for causing problems for opposing quarterbacks as evidenced by his four interceptions during the AAF's one, brief season. Winning the turnover battle would really put the Generals in a good position to start their season off on the right foot.
There will be a feeling-out process for both teams early on. The big key is to survive these issues and get the game into the second half with a chance to win. Look for this contest to hang in the balance heading into the fourth quarter, but in the end, the combination of timely passing from McGough and the home crowd ends up propelling Birmingham to victory as the USFL gets its season started.
Prediction: Stallions 26, Generals 17
– Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Contributor Network.