USFL 2023: How to watch, team previews, best players
The USFL is back and better than ever for the 2023 season. Here is everything you need to know heading into Season 2.
The USFL's second season is right around the corner.
Here is everything to know about the league as it seeks to build on a successful inaugural campaign.
WHAT IS THE USFL?
The United States Football League is a professional spring football league that launched in April of 2022 and is currently starting its second season. The league features eight teams playing in four hub cities (more on that below).
The eight teams play a 10-week regular season followed by two additional playoff rounds, with games occurring from mid-April to early July.
Former Dallas Cowboys star Daryl Johnston is the USFL's President of Football Operations.
HOW CAN I WATCH THE GAMES?
The two opening games on April 15 will air on FOX and the FOX Sports app. First off, the Memphis Showboats make their inaugural home debut at Memphis’ Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium against the Philadelphia Stars (4:30 p.m. ET). That will be followed by a prime-time game at Birmingham’s Protective Stadium between the 2022 USFL champion Birmingham Stallions and the New Jersey Generals (7:30 p.m. ET). Those teams also kicked off last season's schedule in a game that drew three million broadcast viewers.
Throughout the USFL season, games will be shown on FOX, FS1, NBC and USA Network. For game-by-game information on how to watch, check out the full 2023 USFL schedule.
WHERE ARE THE GAMES BEING PLAYED?
In 2022, every regular season game was played in Birmingham, Alabama. This season will expand to feature four host cities:
- Protective Stadium in Birmingham
- Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee
- Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio
- Ford Field in Detroit
Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium will be the home field for the Memphis Showboats and Houston Gamblers, Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium will host New Jersey Generals and Pittsburgh Maulers home games. Protective Stadium in Birmingham will be the home stadium for the Birmingham Stallions and New Orleans Breakers, and Ford Field will be home to the Michigan Panthers and Philadelphia Stars.
The USFL playoffs will take place at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio.
WHO ARE THE TEAMS TO BEAT THIS SEASON?
The Birmingham Stallions are the defending champions after going 9-1 during the regular season and defeating the Philadelphia Stars 33-30 in the 2022 championship game. The New Jersey Generals and New Orleans Breakers were also playoff teams.
WHO ARE THE KEY PLAYERS FANS SHOULD KNOW ABOUT?
KaVontae Turpin, last season's MVP as a receiver/kick returner for the Generals, has left the league and gone on to become a Pro Bowl returner for the NFL's Dallas Cowboys. But there is still a host of exciting and entertaining players across the league.
Reporter Eric Williams recently outlined five potential candidates to take the MVP throne from Turpin, including his former New Jersey teammate, quarterback De'Andre Johnson. Among other stars to watch are Philadelphia QB Case Cookus, as well as former Alabama star Bo Scarbrough, a bruising running back for the Stallions.
Read more about players to watch: Top MVP candidates | Offensive Player of the Year candidates | Defensive Player of the Year candidates
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT EACH TEAM?
Birmingham Stallions: The Stallions return the core of their 2022 USFL championship team.
With depth and experience at quarterback with J’Mar Smith and Alex McGough both back, the Stallions are the only team in the USFL that can claim continuity that dates back to last year. Skip Holtz is the only head coach in the league who will begin Week 1 with the same quarterbacks he selected in the inaugural USFL Draft.
Smith is in Year 7 of his partnership with Holtz, which dates back to Smith’s freshman year at Louisiana Tech, where he played quarterback and Holtz was head coach. In his last two years in which Smith has made starts for Holtz, the two have combined to go 21-2 across college and professional football.
Last season, Smith led the Stallions in passing with 1,573 yards and 10 touchdowns. READ MORE
The Philadelphia Stars: The Stars were just a few minutes short of a USFL championship last season.
It was unsurprisingly an injury to quarterback Cookus that ultimately derailed the Stars’ title hopes after Cookus suffered a broken leg in the fourth quarter of the championship game. While discouraging in the immediate, it means Philadelphia doesn’t have far to go to get over the hump.
The Stars had the highest-scoring offense in the league last season, averaging 26.2 points per game thanks in large part to Cookus, who didn't even become the team's starter until Bryan Scott was injured in Week 3. Cookus finished the season 6-3 as a starter and led the league in passer rating (130.6) among QBs with at least 200 attempts.
Philadelphia enters 2023 with Cookus again at the helm, this time as the unquestioned starter. After the championship game, he worked his way back to health in time to land on the practice squad for the Los Angeles Rams in the back part of their 2022 season. READ MORE
The New Jersey Generals: The Generals matched the best record in the USFL's return season last year at 9-1, only to see their season end abruptly with a playoff loss to the Stars in the league semifinals.
"The guys come in with a chip on their shoulder, kind of like unfinished business a little bit," said offensive coordinator Steven Smith, who returns as part of head coach Mike Riley's staff. "The guys came in ready to go and focused on getting it done and making things happen that we didn't finish last year."
Gone is electric kick returner Turpin, but both of the team's top two running backs return, including USFL Offensive Player of the Year Darius Victor, who rushed for 577 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Trey Williams also returns after rushing for 579 yards and two scores. Additionally, Smith is excited about Kingston Davis, who played at Michigan and UAB before finishing his NCAA career at Miles College. READ MORE
The Houston Gamblers: Looking to create a spark on offense, the Gamblers are counting on athletic quarterback Kenji Bahar to lead them when the team opens the season this weekend against the Panthers.
New Gamblers head coach Curtis Johnson said Bahar won the job in a three-man competition that included Terry Wilson and Montell Cozart.
"He’s shown that he can handle things and really run the offense," Johnson said about Bahar. "I like his throwing style. He’s part runner, part thrower. He does some drop-back stuff well, and he’s a pretty accurate thrower, a very smart guy.
"We’re trying not to put too much on him, but I think he’s the guy right now."
Bahar will be aided by the return of bruising running back Mark Thompson, who led the Gamblers last season with 463 rushing yards and two scores.
And Johnson says the receivers group will be the strength of the offense, led by Tyler Palka, Anthony Ratliff-Williams and vertical threat Deontez Alexander. Palka totaled 18 receptions for 188 receiving yards in 2022 for the Gamblers. READ MORE
The Memphis Showboats: With new uniforms and in a new city, head coach Todd Haley and the Showboats are ready to kick things off again in Bluff City. Haley led the Tampa Bay Bandits to a 4-6 campaign in the USFL's return to the field last season. However, the Bandits have been put on pause and replaced by the Showboats in a return to Memphis this year.
Haley recently announced that Brady White will get the first start at quarterback for his team in the USFL opening weekend against the visiting Philadelphia Stars on Saturday at Liberty Stadium. The University of Memphis product won the job in a three-man competition with Ryan Willis and Cole Kelley.
Haley said for now he’s leaning on White’s experience in the offense, having been with Haley last season when he coached the Bandits. White threw for a school-record 10,690 passing yards and 90 touchdowns during his three seasons as a starter for the Tigers.
"Brady has kind of cemented himself as the starter here as we get the season going," Haley said. "But Ryan and Cole are talented guys that have impressed us throughout this process. I don’t think it’s beyond thinking that you’ll see all these guys play at some point." READ MORE
The Pittsburgh Maulers: Ray Horton takes over a team that went 1-9 last year for the worst record in the USFL's first season back, and he'll barely acknowledge the past as he works to rebrand the franchise in 2023.
"We only referenced last year's record one time," said Horton, 62, a longtime NFL assistant who won one Super Bowl as a player with the Cowboys and two as a Steelers assistant. "I said 'Last year, we won one game.' I said 'We.' I didn't say 'They.' It's kind of a new beginning, and all we're preaching is fundamentals and doing things right ... Are we better? We think we are, but we'll find out."
The biggest name on the roster is former Alabama and NFL linebacker Reuben Foster, a first-round pick with the 49ers who has not played since 2018. His promising NFL career was derailed after two seasons by off-field issues and a serious knee injury in 2019.
"We know who he is and who he was, and we were very happy to get him," Horton said. "He adds validity to our defense, to our team. One day the players were watching highlights, and it was amazing to watch. They were in awe. That was a cool moment for us to realize this guy is very, very good. Before he even walks in the door, people know him. He's been a joy to be around." READ MORE
The New Orleans Breakers: After reaching the USFL playoffs last year and falling just short against eventual champion Birmingham, the Breakers have retooled with a new head coach and a new starting quarterback, and are poised to compete for the South Division title in 2023.
The Breakers, led by coach John DeFilippo, return their two best wide receivers in former Ohio State standout Johnnie Dixon and Arkansas State product Jonathan Adams, who combined for 69 catches and 768 yards last season.
With quarterbacks McLeod Bethel-Thompson and Aqeel Glass both brand new to the USFL, DeFilippo will have to take full advantage of his veteran receivers early in the regular season.
But DeFilippo will have an advantage of his own in Bethel-Thompson, a former Canadian Football League quarterback who passed for more than 4,700 yards with 23 TDs to just 15 INTs as a Toronto Argonaut last year. The product of Sacramento State adds a championship pedigree to the Breakers after winning two Grey Cups in six seasons in the CFL. READ MORE
The Michigan Panthers: The Panthers finished third in the North last season at 2-8, a campaign viewed as a disappointment more than anything.
The good news for the Panthers is that they won the final game of the season against the Maulers, thereby (uniquely to the USFL) winning not only the game but the right to the first overall pick in the inaugural USFL college draft. The Panthers took offensive tackle Jarrett Horst out of Michigan State — another uniquely USFL thing to do: they value offensive linemen. In fact, Michigan’s first-ever draft class included four offensive linemen out of their 10 total picks.
Perhaps the biggest change facing the Panthers as they attempt to rebound from a sub-par 2022 season will be the man in charge of fixing things, new head coach Mike Nolan. Jeff Fisher stepped down as head coach in early February, citing personal reasons, and handed the reins over to Nolan, a long-time NFL coaching veteran and defensive guru.
With previous stops in San Francisco as head coach and most recently the Dallas Cowboys as defensive coordinator in 2020, Nolan will be back at the helm in his new home of Detroit.
Nolan will have the benefit of welcoming back star linebacker Frank Ginda, who finished with the second-most tackles in the league last season with 90. READ MORE
More on the USFL:
- USFL 2023: How to watch, team previews, best players
- The full week-by-week 2023 USFL schedule
- Five potential USFL MVP candidates to keep an eye on ahead of 2023 season
- Michigan Panthers preview: Rising defense under Mike Nolan
- Pittsburgh Maulers preview: Fresh faces and a fresh start?
- Birmingham Stallions preview: Champs look to run it back
- New Jersey Generals preview: Building on a 9-1 season
- Memphis Showboats preview: QB Brady White to steer the ship
- Houston Gamblers preview: A focus on team speed
- Philadelphia Stars preview: Championship or bust
- New Orleans Breakers preview: Back to the postseason?