The USFL is officially halfway through their inaugural season. With five weeks behind us, we’ve gotten a good look at how each team performs on a daily basis. Heading into week six, both New Jersey and Birmingham sit atop their respective divisions.
Here's where things stand in the North Division halfway through the season 🎖🔝
As expected, week five brought us plenty of entertainment across the boards. The quality of play has improved drastically since opening kickoff, which in turn has resulted in competitive games week in and week out.
There's no shortage of wild plays in this week's Top 10 🔥
Houston might be the most talented spring football team ever to simultaneously sit at the bottom of our power rankings. The Gamblers have an all star running back in Mark Thompson, an incredible wide receiver core led by Isaiah Zuber – and a fearsome defense fueled by Reggie Northrup, Will Likely, Donald Payne, and plenty more.
However, the team continues to lose the fourth quarter – something they cannot overcome. Clayton Thorson has been, to be quite frank, underwhelming as a quarterback. His inability to put his team in a winnable situation has been on full display this season, and has played a major role in their four game losing streak. While Thorson shows signs of greatness here and there, his inconsistency has held the team back from reaching their full potential.
It’s a shame, because Houston does possess a lot of talent. Their defense, while struggling to maintain leads down the stretch, is exhausted. With how often they are on the field, it’s difficult to stand strong when the offense can’t hold up their side of the bargain. Moving forward, Kevin Sumlin has to find an answer at the QB position – because this version of Thorson clearly isn’t it.
Next Up: New Jersey. Earlier on, I’ve asked questions about this Houston team, and what their potential can be. The past couple of weeks have answered those questions – they are not built for the big moments. Unless a miracle happens, Houston is going to get rocked by New Jersey on Sunday.
Speaking of miracles…how about those Pittsburgh Maulers?? Kirby Wilson finally made the right adjustment: play your better quarterback. Despite being picked up off the streets just several days ago, Vad Lee is clearly a star. The energetic QB put the team on his back, throwing for two huge touchdowns in the fourth quarter; including the go-ahead game winner. Lee is exactly what this team needed, and will give them a massive spark as we hit the second half of the USFL’s season.
Pittsburgh still has plenty of areas to improve, hence why they sit at seventh place. The ground game has been quite inconsistent, and was hardly noticeable at all against Houston. If the Maulers genuinely want to make a push down the stretch, Madre London and Garrett Groshek have to carry some of Lee’s burden.
Defensively, Pittsburgh did what they had to do, holding the Gamblers to a late field goal – giving their offense a chance. The addition of Jaylen McClain-Sapp will certainly help boost this defense next week, as he will hopefully have made a full recovery by then. While the Maulers still have a lot to prove, this is an excellent step in the right direction.
Next Up: New Orleans. This will be no easy task – but it’s not impossible. The key factor here is: don’t let Kyle Sloter feel comfortable early. Pittsburgh has to make his life miserable from the get go. If they do, the Maulers will definitely have a fighting chance.
Who would’ve thought: Shea Patterson threw for 300 yards, yet the team still lost. Patterson finally had a breakout game for Michigan, finding a rhythm early and never looking back. Jeff Fisher seemed to realize that Patterson is at his best while on the move. Implementing a more energetic game plan seems to be the play for Michigan’s offense. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to get the Panthers their second win of the year.
Once again, Michigan shot themselves in the foot, costing them dearly. Last week, it was a chip-shot field goal that probably should not have even been attempted in the first place. This week, turnovers at untimely moments sucked the life right out of the team. A tipped pass in Tampa Bay’s red zone resulted in an interception, ending a great drive. Then, a fumble on Michigan’s final possession effectively put the nails in the coffin.
If Michigan wants to start winning some football games, they have to play complete football across the board. Their defense really struggled against Jordan Ta’amu, which is not a good sign. They’ve been excellent all year long, but could not get a stop when they needed it most. Fisher still has a lot of work to do to get his team on the right track.
Next Up: Birmingham. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but it’s going to be quite difficult to get past the USFL’s best team. That being said, it’s spring football: anything is possible. If Shea Patterson can consistently play as he did in week five, Michigan becomes a much more complete squad.
Philadelphia is a difficult team to figure out. At times, they will look like the USFL’s best – only to fold just moments later. The team is clearly missing Bryan Scott, who was an MVP frontrunner before going down with a knee injury in week three. Case Cookus hasn’t been bad by any means – but he doesn’t pack the same punch that Scott does. This was clearly evident against Birmingham, as the team couldn’t do anything right in the second half.
Part of this is due to Bart Andrus, as he went away from the run-heavy scheme that worked quite well in the first half. After putting up 17 points in two quarters, Birmingham scored 23 unanswered points to close out the game. The defense made some plays here and there to keep the game close, but ultimately could not prevent J’Mar Smith from taking over.
Philadelphia still sits in the second seed in the North – but if they don’t start winning, they won’t be there for long. Pittsburgh may finally have found a rhythm, and the Stars got quite lucky last weekend against Michigan. To put it simply, Philadelphia has a long way to go before being considered as a true championship contender. The talent and the pieces are mostly there, but it is up to Andrus and the coaching staff to correctly fit the puzzle together.
Next Up: Tampa Bay. Philadelphia absolutely has the talent needed to beat Tampa Bay. The Bandits do not have a strong defense, meaning that the Stars should see success on the offensive end. If they can contain Jordan Ta’amu, and if Case Cookus can play well, the Stars will put themselves in an excellent position to get back to .500.
Tampa Bay is right in the thick of things in that South Division. While they currently sit in the third seed, the Bandits have shown improvements in recent weeks. The inconsistency is still there – but the potential of this group is quite high. Jordan Ta’amu has looked much better since the start of the season, finding a groove against Michigan this past week. If he continues to work his way back to his XFL form, the USFL is in trouble.
What gave Tampa a massive boost was the addition of a running back who made an impact. Juwan Washington had an impressive week, scoring twice and taking some of the load off of Ta’amu’s shoulders. This clearly made Todd Haley’s offensive group much more effective, and put the team in a position to win the game.
Defensively, Tampa Bay finally won the turnover battle, something they haven’t done all season long. The Bandits’ defense has been one of their biggest weak points so far, but if they can right the ship, Tampa will be in excellent shape. Christian Sam has been a force at the linebacker position, and will have to continue to play at a high level to lead this defense to more future success.
Next Up: Philadelphia. This is a huge game for Tampa Bay, as they haven’t won two games in a row yet this season. This is their chance to do it. Can Ta’amu play great in back to back games? Can Haley’s defense put pressure on Cookus and Philadelphia’s star receivers? Big questions for Tampa heading into week six.
New Orleans has looked a bit shaky over the past couple of weeks, and it’s because of Kyle Sloter’s inability to stay consistent. The star QB has been dealing with injuries, and it is clearly hampering his play to an extent. However, there are no excuses for some of his poor decisions as a quarterback – and it’s holding back his team from reaching its full potential. On Saturday, several poor throws allowed New Jersey to take complete control of the game. If the Breakers want to stay competitive in their division, Sloter has to be at the top of his game every single week, there are no exceptions.
Johnnie Dixon, Sal Cannella, and Jonathan Adams are absolute stars. This wide receiver core of the New Orleans Breakers might be the scariest in the league – which is why it is frustrating to see Sloter struggle. This group is so talented, but can only be properly utilized if the quarterback plays a complete game.
New Orleans has been known for their defense all season long. However, New Jersey got whatever they wanted on Saturday. In fact, the Generals offense combined for over 400 yards – the Breakers could not find a way to get a stop, no matter how hard they tried. Larry Fedora has to get this group under control, because we know how solid they can be.
Next Up: Pittsburgh. This is a great matchup for New Orleans to get back on track – but they cannot sleep on the Maulers. Vad Lee looks like Pittsburgh’s best offensive threat they’ve had all season. New Orleans has to bring an intensity from the get go if they want to win this one.
The New Jersey Generals are putting the USFL on notice. This team is arguably the most complete; from offense, to defense, and finally special teams with a competent kicker. DeAndre Johnson is a star, and playing at an MVP caliber level. Mike Riley is an exceptional coach, proving that once again in the USFL. Johnson went from being someone who most thought would be a backup, into an MVP-caliber player within five weeks. His development as a passer has been nothing short of remarkable. If Johnson continues to play at this level, there is no limit to just how dangerous this offense can be.
Speaking of dangerous – how about Darius Victor and his thick thighs? In all seriousness, Victor is sensational. He’s leading the USFL in rushing touchdowns (5), while powering New Jersey’s offense throughout every game. Trey Williams is an excellent addition – while Kavonte Turpin provides explosive speed on the perimeter. Pair that up with Alonzo Moore and Darius Shepherd – and you’ve got all the pieces you need to be great.
The Generals boast one of the league’s best defenses as well, dominating on Saturday afternoon. They made Sloter feel uncomfortable throughout the entirety of the game, forcing him into making tough decisions. Shalom Luani making a return to the secondary was crucial to the squad’s success, as his two interceptions fueled New Jersey to a huge week five win.
Next Up: Houston. Unless something goes seriously wrong, New Jersey is the clear favorite in this one. With how well Riley’s offense is running the football, I don’t see Houston having many answers. That being said, New Jersey has to keep the pressure on Thorson – making sure he can’t get into a rhythm.
Dominant is a pretty good way to sum up the Birmingham Stallions. This team is absolutely incredible, especially in the second half. After a sub-par early showing from Alex McGough, Skip Holtz resorted to J’Mar Smith, who once again took over the game. Smith is clearly the better option, and continues to show just how smart he is with the football. His ability to dissect defenses is elite, and makes him into one of the USFL’s best quarterbacks.
While we thought Bo Scarbrough would be the story to watch in the backfield, it turned out to be CJ Marable. He brought the heat to the football field on Sunday, dominating Philadelphia’s secondary. Holtz knew that the Stars cannot stop the run, so he wisely continued to feed Marable who was in an excellent rhythm. If Marable can contribute like this on a weekly basis, Birmingham will be in fantastic shape.
Starting the second half STRONG 🐎🐎🐎@TorranceMarable runs it in and puts us out in front 😤
To no one’s surprise, Birmingham’s defense was outstanding. Despite missing Scooby Wright III, DeMarquis Gates and the rest of the squad stepped up in his absence. Philadelphia scored zero points in the second half, and could not do anything at all after taking a 17-7 lead. It’s not how you start games, it’s how you finish them – and Birmingham knows how to close things out every single week.
Next Up: Michigan. As long as the Stallions make Patterson feel uncomfortable in the pocket, Birmingham should certainly have the edge in this one. Scooby’s return will be welcomed on defense, and expect J’Mar Smith to get the start as well.
Overall, the first five weeks of action have been quite enjoyable to watch in the USFL. We’ve seen so much talent in each organization, and it will only continue to improve as the season progresses.
・ Teo Redding's insane one-handed catch 🤯 ・ @USFLPanthers' double forward pass for the TD 👀 ・ Darius Victor's run + line of the week 🤣
As we head into week six, keep an eye on the teams who are fighting for seeding positions. The playoff push begins now – and it is going to be incredibly exciting. Get fired up, USFL fans. It’s going to be a fun, and unpredictable ride to the finish line.
What do you think of these power rankings at the halfway point? Which teams do you think will outperform expectations in the second half of the season? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!