The Dallas Renegades head into the 2020 XFL season as one of the favorites to win it all, and their road to a championship will begin on Sunday against the St. Louis BattleHawks. Globe Life Park will be the home field for the Renegades, as it begins its life as the former stadium of the Texas Rangers.
Bob Stoops will be back on the sidelines as the head coach of the Renegades. Stoops was the longtime coach of the Oklahoma Sooners had a tremendous level of success during his 18-year stint in Norman, where he won 10 Big 12 titles and a national championship. Stoops stepped down prior to the 2017 season to spend more time with his family and to recharge the coaching batteries, so to speak. The setup of the XFL with a 10-game season — in addition to not having to recruit players 24/7 like you have to in college football — should fit his situation like a glove.
It will be a mini University of Oklahoma coaching staff reunion on Sunday for BattleHawks head coach Jonathan Hayes and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Chuck Long. Hayes and Long both coached under Stoops at Oklahoma. Hayes was the tight ends coach and special teams coordinator for Stoops from 1999-2002 before heading off to the NFL to coach for 16 years. Long was the offensive coordinator for the Sooners when they won the 2000 BCS National Championship and should be able to help develop dual-threat quarterback Jordan Ta'amu, who will be the starter this week for the BattleHawks.
St. Louis at Dallas
Kickoff: Sunday, Feb. 9 at 5 p.m. ET
Where: Globe Life Park (Arlington, Texas)
Spread: Renegades -9.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Dallas offense
Landry Jones is the starting quarterback for the Renegades, although a knee injury suffered in training camp in January has put his availability on Sunday into question. Jones has had his share of experience in the NFL with most of his success coming in Pittsburgh. He is very familiar with Bob Stoops and his offensive mindset after playing four years under his tutelage at Oklahoma. Running back should be another position of strength for Dallas, as Cameron Artis-Payne and Lance Dunbar lead a pretty deep group. Their ability to wear down the St. Louis defense will be crucial in this season-opening contest. Former Sooners receivers Jeff Badet and Jazz Ferguson will also bring more continuity to the offense. Badet can run a 4.27 40-yard dash, which should set him up nicely to stretch opposing defenses all year long. Ferguson has the height (6-5) and speed that will cause matchup problems for opposing defensive backs too. His development is going to be an underrated key to success for the Renegades passing attack this season.
2. St. Louis secondary
The BattleHawks look to be well-rounded defensive football. Jonathan Hayes and his staff did a really good job of prioritizing the defensive line and secondary when putting this group together. This week, the secondary will be under the gun against the Air Raid offense of Dallas offensive coordinator Hal Mumme. Robert Nelson and Kenny Robinson will need to have huge games at cornerback and safety, respectively; Nelson has the ability to play at an NFL-caliber level and has previous spring football experience from playing for the Arizona Hotshots in the AAF. Robinson will be using this opportunity to create some impressive game tape since he is eligible to be selected in the 2020 NFL draft after leaving West Virginia at the end of last season. This will be a very unique situation with Robinson, and if he can play well and the XFL has lasting power, it will be interesting to see if other college athletes go this same route.
3. Dallas defense
The ability to play sound, disciplined football will be crucial for the Renegades defense this week because they will have to find a way to keep Jordan Ta’amu in the pocket. Dallas’s defense will face a tough test to play consistently for four quarters since their Air Raid offense can put their defense in harm’s way if they score too quickly or have too many three-and-outs. Hau'oli Kikaha had 19 sacks during his final year at the University of Washington. That performance led the Saints to select him in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. When Kikaha is completely healthy, he can cause plenty of headaches for opposing offenses. Gelen Robinson will be expected to be a disruptive force at defensive tackle, which will set the tone for the rest of the defensive line to go to work against opposing quarterbacks. The secondary has plenty of experience; Josh Hawkins has three NFL starts in 32 games across three seasons. His experience and speed should be very valuable assets for the Dallas secondary. Josh Thornton is another cornerback who has spent time in multiple NFL camps and has pretty good speed, which should fit help him a lot this week against the St. Louis passing attack.
Stoops was known as "Big Game Bob" back at Oklahoma and should have his guys ready to go in Week 1 to play a pretty crisp, clean game. There won't be a ton of mystery as to what these two teams are going to try to do schematically since each staff is going to have a strong read on the other's primary tendencies. Home-field advantage should be the difference, as the Renegades will find a way to execute a couple of two- or three-point PATs to pick up their first win of the season.
Prediction: Renegades 30, BattleHawks 22
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter@ScottWhittum.
(Top graphic courtesy of @XFLBattleHawks)