We've finally made it to kickoff of the XFL's 2020 relaunch! In the nightcap on Saturday's schedule, we'll see the Houston Roughnecks host the Los Angeles Wildcats in what could be an interesting matchup.
This will be the first XFL game ever to be played in Texas. The 2001 version of the XFL didn't have any Texas teams, but you can bet that the fans in Houston are excited about having another team to cheer for. But in Los Angeles, this is the second time that the XFL has set up shop in Southern California.
The champions of the 2001 XFL were the Los Angeles Xtreme. And the Wildcats would love to bring the 2020 XFL title home, especially now that L.A. is once again a thriving football market. But we're a long way from crowning a champion so let's just focus on Week 1 for now. It's a battle of two football-crazy cities who now have an additional team to cheer for.
Los Angeles at Houston
Kickoff: Saturday, Feb. 8 at 5 p.m. ET
Where: TDECU Stadium (Houston)
Spread: Roughnecks -5.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Quarterbacks in the spotlight
The Roughnecks have announced this week that P.J. Walker will start under center for June Jones against Los Angeles. After throwing for over 10,000 yards and 70-plus touchdowns during his four seasons at Temple (2013-16), Walker spent some time on the Indianapolis Colts practice squad before the XFL came calling. This will be his first pass in a regular-season game since his college days, and it'll be interesting to see how he runs coach Jones' offense under the XFL's rules, which advocate for a fast pace of play. But Walker can't get himself lost in the moment, and he'll be facing a team which should be solid on defense.
The Wildcats have Josh Johnson listed as QB1 on the depth chart but he hasn't practiced this week due to a thigh injury according to the official injury report. Johnson was signed after the XFL Draft, and it was believed that he would be the starter after the Wildcats tradedLuis Perez to New York. Should Johnson be unable to go, then the Wildcats will have to turn to either Jalan McClendon or Chad Kanoff.
Kanoff was the player that the Guardians sent in exchange for Perez. He was a three-year starter at Princeton and bounced around a few NFL practice squads before joining the XFL. Kanoff is a California native, so getting the start would be a huge opportunity for him. McClendon threw for 715 yards and three touchdowns in nine games for Baylor in 2018. He played for Washington Redskins during the 2019 NFL preseason but didn't make the final roster. But Johnson is the most experienced out of all three Wildcat quarterbacks.
2. Offense vs. defense
We could be in for quite the chess match once these head coaches take the field against one another. Houston's June Jones is known for his high-scoring, fast-paced, wide-open offenses that can easily score 30 points any given week. L.A.'s Winston Moss is the only defensive-minded head coach currently in the XFL and has a strong defensive acumen. From 2007 to 2018, Moss was the assistant head coach and linebackers coach for the Green Bay Packers under Mike McCarthy. It was there that Moss worked with the likes of Clay Matthews, A.J. Hawk, B.J. Raji, and Charles Woodson, among others.
During Moss' time in Wisconsin, the Packers posted nine winning seasons, collected six NFC North division titles, won the 2010 NFC championship, and took home the Lombardi Trophy at Super Bowl XLV. Moss will employ an aggressive defense that focuses on pressuring the quarterback.
3. It just may come down to one or two defensive stops
Houston will need to show up on defense if they want to win this game. To this end, coach Jones hired veteran defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, whose extensive background covers nearly 50 years of experience at the collegiate level as well as the NFL, USFL, UFL, and AAF. While we all know that Moss will have his defense prepared, you can't count out his offense either as play-calling guru Norm Chow is his offensive coordinator. Like Cottrell, Chow also possesses 40-plus years of play-calling experience. And this will be the third time that Chow will call the plays for a Southern California team.
Chow is best remembered for his days as the offensive coordinator for the USC Trojans (won two national championships and three straight Pac-12 titles from 2001-04) and the UCLA Bruins (2008-10). While Chow isn't exactly a spread offense guy, his West Coast/pro-style hybrid playbook is known for a combination of both big and quick-strike plays that can wear defenses down.
While I don't expect this to be a huge high-scoring affair, it will certainly be a back and forth matchup that will come down to the wire. But I think that in the end Los Angeles does just enough on defense to take home a close win on the road.
Prediction: Wildcats 28, Roughnecks 25
— Gabe Salgado 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's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top graphic courtesy of @XFLWildcats)