USFL Week 1: What to expect in Pittsburgh Maulers vs. New Orleans Breakers

The Pittsburgh Maulers and New Orleans Breakers both struggled to find consistency at quarterback last season.

Now, when they meet in Week 1 of the 2023 USFL season this weekend (Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET on FS1 and the FOX Sports app) both will feature new faces they hope will help solidify the position.

Here’s a breakdown of Sunday's season-opening matchup.

Which quarterback makes his mark?

The Maulers endured perhaps the worst luck at quarterback last year and were unable to find a rhythm offensively, in part, due to the inconsistency they experienced at the game’s most important position.

This year, three new players have had a chance to compete for the starting gig, and James Morgan has perhaps the best chance to win the job outright. Morgan won Conference USA Newcomer of the Year at FIU after passing for 2,727 yards with 26 TDs against seven INTs in 2018. He was selected in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

On the Breakers roster, former Alabama A&M quarterback Aqeel Glass and CFL veteran McLeod Bethel-Thompson each have enough talent to win the job. Glass, a 6-foot-5, 225-pounder, led the Bulldogs to their first HBCU football national title in the spring of 2021 — and first SWAC title since 2006, while Bethel-Thompson has quarterbacked two Grey Cup-winning teams (2017, 2022), and has led the CFL in passing yards (4,731) and passing TDs (23) as the starter for the Toronto Argonauts. He's thrown for 4,000 yards or more in two of his last four seasons.

How new USFL coach John DeFilippo chooses to manage his quarterbacks will be interesting to see, especially since Bethel-Thompson and DeFilippo spent training camp together in 2016 with the Philadelphia Eagles when DeFilippo was the team's quarterbacks coach.

Are the defenses still stout?

Defensive coordinator Jarren Horton turned heads last year with his ability to create one of the league’s best defenses. Now, as an assistant head coach, and working for his father, new Maulers head coach Ray Horton, he’s added former Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster to a veteran group that includes linebacker Kyahva Tezino, nose tackle Boogie Roberts and safety Tre Tarpley.

Tezino recorded 56 tackles, two sacks and an INT last season.

Meanwhile, the New Orleans Breakers led the league in scoring defense, allowing just 14.8 points per game while recording 10 picks and forcing nine fumbles.

Many of the players who made those plays return for them in 2023, as does defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta. As I wrote earlier, Jerod Fernandez, who notched 48 tackles and two sacks in 2022, and Vontae Diggs, who had 51 tackles and an INT each buoyed a defense that should be good.

Which wide receiver unit shows out?

The Breakers return the best pair of wideouts in the South Division in former Arkansas State WR Jonathan Adams and former Ohio State pass-catcher Johnnie Dixon. The duo combined for 69 catches and 768 yards in 2022.

The Maulers will enjoy having their most productive offensive player back, wideout Tre Walker, who will be joined by returning veteran Bailey Gaither. They also hope to see an outstanding season from USFL newcomer Jalen McCleskey. McCleskey, who had stops at Oklahoma State and Tulane, recorded 2,446 yards and 21 TDs in 56 games.

RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast "The Number One College Football Show." Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to "The RJ Young Show" on YouTube.

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