The opening week of the reinvented USFL will conclude with a rescheduled matchup between the Tampa Bay Bandits and Pittsburgh Maulers. Originally scheduled for Sunday night, severe weather in the Birmingham, Alabama, area resulted in a postponement with the game moved to Monday night. Here's what to watch for when these two teams take the field to wrap up Week 1.
Related: What You Need to Know About the USFL
Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh
Kickoff: Monday, April 18 at 7 p.m. ET
Where: Protective Stadium (Birmingham, Ala.)
Spread: Bandits -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. A battle of wits amongst the head coaches
We could have a potential chess match on our hands between the two head coaches. Maulers head coach Kirby Wilson was a long-time NFL and collegiate assistant on both sides of the ball. He won Super Bowls with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (XXXVII) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (XLIII) as the running backs coach for both teams. He also won a Western Athletic Conference title as the defensive coordinator for Wyoming (1993). He most recently coached the running backs for the Raiders (2019-20).
This is his first head coaching job, which also marks his return to Pittsburgh since his time with the Steelers (2007-13). On the opposite sideline for the Bandits will be Todd Haley. He's best known for his work as offensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals (2007-08), the Steelers (2012-17), where he was on the same staff as Wilson for two seasons (2012 and '13), and the Cleveland Browns (2018). Haley's only previous head coaching job was with the Kansas City Chiefs (2009-11).
Along the way, Haley has worked with quarterbacks such as Kurt Warner, Matt Cassel, Brodie Croyle, Kyle Orton, Ben Roethlisberger, and Baker Mayfield. These two men also coached against one another in Super Bowl XLIII, and it'll be interesting to see how their familiarity with each other plays a role in deciding this game.
2. A solid quarterback matchup
Both teams are carrying two quarterbacks into this game, but they are names that should be recognizable to most football fans. For the Bandits, one of the biggest names on the roster is Jordan Ta'amu. The former Ole Miss standout is best remembered for his time with the St. Louis BattleHawks of the XFL in 2020. When the league had suspended operations, Ta'amu was third in passing yards (1,050), first in completion percentage (72.4), second in yards per attempt (7.8), tied for fourth in touchdown passes (5), and third in passer rating (101.3).
Since then, he's bounced around the following NFL practice squads ... Kansas City (2020-21), Detroit (2020-21), Washington (2021), and Carolina (2021). Now he has a chance to prove himself as a starter again. But if Ta'amu doesn't get the nod, that means Brady White will get a chance to showcase his rocket arm. Although he never played in the NFL, White threw for 10,949 yards and 92 touchdowns between Arizona State (2016) and Memphis (2018-20). Both signal-callers are capable of leading this team.
On the Maulers' side, it'll be either Josh Love or Kyle Lauletta getting the nod under center. While both men have spent time in the NFL, Lauletta is the only one who's played in a regular-season game. His stat sheet in the NFL isn't pretty (0-for-5, INT), but he's spent time on the active rosters for both the Giants (2018) and the Browns (2021). Love was on the practice squad for the Rams (2019) and Panthers (2021) after a successful run at San Jose State that saw him earn Mountain West Conference Player of the Year honors in 2019. Both teams have young and hungry quarterbacks eager to prove that they can play in a professional league.
3. Other key players
From a skill position standpoint, Tampa Bay's backfield is made up of Juwan Washington (2,699 rushing yards, 25 TDs with San Diego State from 2016-19) and BJ Emmons (564 yards from scrimmage with eight total touchdowns for both Alabama and Florida Atlantic from 2016-20). The speedy Rashard Davis, who has had a cup of coffee in the NFL, is among the wide receivers while De'Quan Hampton, an XFL alum (Los Angeles Wildcats) could make an impact at tight end.
On the defensive side, the Bandits have cornerback Christian Campbell, a Penn State product who played for the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders the last two years, defensive lineman Daylon Mack, who appeared in one game for the Baltimore Ravens in 2019, as well as linebacker Christian Sam, who was a member of the New England Patriots team that won Super Bowl LIII.
Pittsburgh's primary targets in the passing game figure to be former Miami Hurricanes wide receiver Jeff Thomas (1,316 receiving yards, and 1,484 return yards from 2017-19) and former Michigan State tight end Matt Seybert. Former Wisconsin running back Garrett Groshek (5.2 ypc as a Badger) should get some opportunities as well. On defense, the Maulers' depth chart includes Groshek's college teammate, defensive lineman Olive Sagapolu, former Jacksonville Jaguars (2017-18) linebacker Blair Brown, and safety Arnold Tarpley, who last suited up for the AAF's Memphis Express in 2019.
While both teams have plenty of talent and coaching to go around, I think that Haley's play-calling will win out in the end. It will be a close, competitive, and hard-hitting game, but the Bandits will walk away with the Week 1 victory.
Prediction: Bandits 20, Maulers 17
— Written by Gabe Salgado, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.