Season two of the USFL is officially upon us. The Memphis Showboats debut at home tomorrow, against the Philadelphia Stars. It’s bound to be an entertaining showdown, especially with all of the talent featured in this one.
The Philadelphia Stars are looking to build upon the success they saw last year. Led by QB Case Cookus, this team made it to the Championship game, but fell just short against Birmingham.
On the other hand, the Memphis Showboats are a whole new franchise. The Tampa Bay Bandits morphed into the current iteration of the Showboats, with HC Todd Haley still at the helm. After a 4-6 record and missing the postseason, this unit is hoping to re-write their story in 2023.
Let’s take a look at the major factors which play into tomorrow’s game, and what fans can expect in the USFL opener.
The Stars feature one of the league’s best quarterbacks. Case Cookus was outstanding last season, replacing an injured Bryan Scott in week three. You could make an argument for Cookus as the All-USFL QB – and, potentially MVP – had he been able to play the full season.
With so many weapons returning around Case, we should expect him to look as sharp as ever. He manages games impressively well, growing quite a bit as a leader in the USFL in 2022. Cookus threw for 1,340 yards and 12 touchdowns in just seven starts.
For Memphis, Brady White is an interesting prospect to watch heading into this season. He was with Tampa Bay last season, but saw limited minutes behind Jordan Ta’amu.
This year, it’s different for White. He’s returning to Memphis – where he was a college star. With a full year of experience in Haley’s system, we’ll see if Brady can find a rhythm against a stout Philadelphia defense in week one. White is a talented QB, and now has an opportunity to prove himself at a professional level.
Something to note: Cole Kelley is QB2 for Memphis, and there is certainly a chance we see him play snaps if things aren’t going well with Brady.
Standout USFL Playmakers
The good news is that both of these teams are absolutely stacked offensively. To start with: running backs. Memphis signed former NFL back Alex Collins, who will look to revive his professional career in the USFL. Expect Collins to see plenty of snaps on Saturday.
Matt Colburn has been one of the most underrated running backs in spring football for years. He was excellent in The Spring League, before impressing with the Stars last year. He finished the season with 452 rushing yards, and eight touchdowns. In week six against the Bandits, he scored three touchdowns in what was a dominant performance.
Dexter Williams is also an excellent back. He filled in for Colburn in the Championship game, and was spectacular in his first USFL game. Now that the two are healthy and on the same roster, expect even more out of Philadelphia’s rushing game this year.
Speaking of talent, these quarterbacks have plenty of quality targets to throw to. On one hand, Cookus will have most of the same weapons from 2022: Devin Gray, Chris Rowland, Diondre Overton, and Jordan Suell are all still with the Stars.
Jordan Suell was sensational for Philadelphia in 2022. Finished the season with 376 yards & 3 TD's. His #USFL Championship performance was legendary. Size, speed, superb hands – Suell has it all.pic.twitter.com/embp5vT9Nc
This is excellent not just for the Philadelphia Stars – but also for the league as a whole. The chemistry built between Cookus and his receivers will only get better from season one. Jordan Suell, in particular, is someone to watch. His big frame and remarkable hands make him into a go to guy for Case, especially in the red zone.
Brady White will see plenty of familiar faces as well. Derrick Dillon, Rashard Davis, Vinny Papale, and John Franklin are all back with the Showboats. Memphis features one of the deepest WR rooms in the league, so as long as White is throwing the ball well, this unit will be firing on all cylinders.
Offensive Line: Chemistry Is Key
One of the biggest stories – which doesn’t get enough attention – revolves around the play of the offensive line. In spring football, it’s difficult to develop lines that stay consistent, healthy, and cohesive throughout the course of the season.
Both teams have plenty of returning linemen from 2022, alongside some new additions. If these groups can build upon the chemistry they built last season, we’re in for some good football. It doesn’t matter how talented an offense is – if they don’t have any time to develop their plays, they won’t be going anywhere.
Who’s The Favorite?
One has to give the Philadelphia Stars the edge, simply because of their 2022 tenure. With so many returning pieces, Bart Andrus has his squad in a position to run it back this year. Not to mention, this very team made it to the Championship last season, so it’s fair to assume that they’ll be on point in week one.
Defensively, the Stars will want to attack Brady White right out of the gate. This is his first start in years, which means it might take a bit to find his footing. With this in mind, it would make sense to see Philadelphia dial up some early pressure, to knock White off of his rocker.
The Stars’ secondary is also one of the best in the league. Channing Stribling, Amani Dennis, Cody Brown and others are all returning to the lineup. Stribling is the leader of Andrus’ defense, and will certainly have an impact covering some of Memphis’ standout receivers.
However, we can’t count the Memphis Showboats out by any means. This team has made several major improvements compared to the roster in 2022. At the same time, plenty of their stars are returning for a second season, which should result in better play.
🚨 PUNT RETURN TOUCHDOWN 🚨@rasharddavis6 with the massive play to bring us right back in it!
Another factor to consider: the fans. The Showboats are set to have over 25,000 fans in attendance for their home opener, which is remarkable. The USFL’s marketing team certainly did their job in the city. With such a passionate fanbase behind them, Memphis could get on a roll, if all goes well this weekend.
At the end of the day, this USFL opener is set up to be a thriller. Between the new franchise/hub in Memphis, Case Cookus’ return, and Brady White’s familiarity with Memphis – it’s bound to be a show. If the offenses live up to the hype, we could certainly see a shootout at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium.
It all kicks off on Saturday, at 4:30pm ET on FOX. Grab your popcorn, you don’t want to miss this one.
What are your thoughts on this matchup between the Memphis Showboats and Philadelphia Stars? Which USFL players do you expect to dominate? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!