USFL Week 2 Power Rankings: Breakers grab top spot
After a dominant victory in Week 2, the New Orleans Breakers have grabbed the top spot in the Power Rankings, RJ Young writes.
By RJ Young
FOX Sports Writer
In Week 2, we saw the New Orleans Breakers separate from the field in what has turned out to be a loaded South Division.
But that doesn't mean everything is set in stone — there are still at least three playoff spots up for grabs and one team in addition to New Orleans that has yet to lose.
The quality of quarterback play increased as well, and a little-known talent for the Philadelphia Stars is beginning to show why he was one of the best-kept secrets in the USFL.
Let’s take a look at my Week 2 Power Rankings:
1. New Orleans Breakers (2-0, 1-0)
Larry Fedora’s squad played the most complete game of any team this season with a 34-3 demolition of the Tampa Bay Bandits. From the outset, the Breakers moved the ball consistently on the ground and through the air, settling into an offensive identity predicated on up-tempo play-calling and execution.
Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone stuck with NFL journeyman Kyle Sloter despite the quarterback's mediocre start to the season, and that investment into the Breakers' No. 1 overall pick paid dividends.
Sloter threw for 269 yards on 39 attempts — the second-highest yardage total this season — with two TDs and not a single interception.
The receiving trio of Johnnie Dixon (from Ohio State), Taywan Taylor (Western Kentucky) and Jay Adams (Arkansas State) kept Bandits defensive coordinator Pepper Johnson on his heels. They combined for 15 catches and 177 yards.
The Breakers' defense has allowed just 10 points per game and already has five takeaways. With a front seven that looks mighty — defensive end Davin Bellamy has four sacks — the Breakers feel like they’re well on their way to locking up one of the two playoff spots in the South Division.
2. Birmingham Stallions (2-0, 1-0)
The Stallions know quarterback J’Mar Smith is their offensive leader, and he played like one Saturday night in their 33-28 win against the Houston Gamblers.
What’s great about the Stallions being one of just two undefeated teams remaining is they still have much to improve on both offensively and defensively.
Offensively, the Stallions will go as far as Smith can take them. When he plays well, so does the offense.
Stallions coach Skip Holtz needed to take the ball out of Smith’s hands to start the second half in order to settle him, though, a dicey call against a tough Houston defense.
Not only did it work, but the passing attack was able to feed off of success of running back C.J. Marable, which resulted in Smith finding wideout Marlon Williams for a 65-yard score in the second half.
The Stallions will have to start faster when they face the Breakers on Saturday (8 p.m. ET on FOX).
3. Philadelphia Stars (1-1, 1-0)
The Stars were perhaps the league's only team that knew its offensive identity the moment head coach Bart Andrus selected quarterback Bryan Scott No. 3 overall in the inaugural USFL Draft.
Scott, who played Division III ball at Occidental, has shown why he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the league, bouncing back from a loss to a Breakers team that feasted on him in the backfield in Week 1.
Scott and the offense settled in against the Pittsburgh Maulers as Philly secured its first win, moving into a tie for first place in the North with the New Jersey Generals.
Scott also is the only quarterback in the league who has passed for at least 200 yards in each of his starts. He leads the league in passing and has set the bar for most passing yards in a game with 272.
Andrus told the media after their 30-23 win against the Maulers that he thought their win was indicative of the time needed to settle into game-speed in the USFL, and he expects the Stars to continue to get better with each passing — pun! — week.
4. Tampa Bay Bandits (1-1, 0-1)
The Bandits looked like the class of the USFL with their demonstrative Week 1 victory against the Maulers. But it turns out they’re still searching for answers offensively, particularly in the passing game.
The Bandits managed just one passing yard in the first quarter of their loss to the Breakers. Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu completed just eight of 18 passes for 62 yards, and the offense averaged just over three yards per play.
Head coach Todd Haley and offensive coordinator Bob Saunders have their work cut out for them in their upcoming matchup against the Gamblers on Saturday (4 p.m. ET on FOX).
The Bandits can ill afford another game where they don’t score a touchdown in a league where the South Division is strongest.
5. New Jersey Generals (1-1, 1-0)
Mike Riley said before the season began that he’d be surprised if the Generals didn’t run the ball well. Turns out he has been right about the strength of his offense.
The Generals average more yards on the ground (168) than passing yards (165.5) and have made a two-quarterback system work — with Luis Perez making the most passing attempts and De'Andre Johnson making the most rushing attempts.
Defensively, the Generals were able to overcome the loss of safety Shalom Luani during their 10-6 win against the Michigan Panthers. However, they're minus-2 as a team in turnover margin — the third-worst team in that metric.
Still, they sit in a tie for first place in the North Division with Philadelphia, who they play this week (Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on Peacock) for (The) Northman supremacy. The game will feature the league’s best rushing attack against the league’s best passing attack.
6. Houston Gamblers (1-1, 0-1)
The Gamblers still have a way to go offensively, particularly at the quarterback position. At times, former Northwestern star Clayton Thorson has looked like the kind of player Kevin Sumlin thought he could be when he selected him with the Gamblers' first pick, but those times have been less frequent than he would like.
Through two games, Thorson has passed for just 214 yards, completed only 50% of his passes and thrown more interceptions (four) than touchdowns (three).
Tim Lewis' defense has still managed to stay active and opportunistic, though. Cornerback Will Likely, a candidate for USFL Defensive Player of the Week, has picked off two passes in as many weeks.
He returned one interception 62 yards for a score, and also forced a fumble in the Gamblers’ loss to Birmingham. Linebacker Donald Payne leads the league in tackles with 33.
The defense has given the Gamblers a chance to win each of their games late. If Sumlin’s offense catches up to his defense, the Gamblers could become a safe bet to climb back into playoff contention in the South.
7. Pittsburgh Maulers (0-2, 0-1)
The good news for the Maulers is they made the biggest leap of any team from Week 1 to Week 2. The offense has settled on former San Jose State Spartan Josh Love as the starting quarterback and has a dynamic weapon in former SJSU wideout Bailey Gaither, who caught seven passes for 119 yards in the Maulers’ loss to Philadelphia.
Much of the Maulers’ improvement offensively, according to Kirby Wilson, had to do with him improving as a play-caller. He’ll hope that improvement leads to a win in Week 3 when he, the least experienced pro head coach in the league, faces Michigan's Jeff Fisher, who boasts the most pro experience.
Defensive coordinator Jarren Horton has a defense that can be potent when it limits big plays. Cornerback Jaylon McClain-Sapp came up with an outstanding one-handed interception against the Stars and has already scored more touchdowns (two) than any Maulers offensive player.
Linebacker Kyahva Tezino leads the Maulers with 10.5 tackles per game and has looked like the heartbeat of what is the best winless defense in the USFL.
8. Michigan Panthers (0-2, 0-1)
The Panthers chose to start and stick with No. 1 overall draft pick Shea Patterson at quarterback on Friday night, and, though they had a chance to win the game late, Patterson only looked capable of getting that done on the contest's the final drive.
After a mostly forgettable evening in which he finished 14 of 29 for 124 yards, Patterson converted a fourth-and-20 pass to running back Cameron Scarlett after nearly taking a safety. He put the Panthers just 26 yards from stealing a game they had shown no signs of winning.
The Panthers have also lost starters to season-ending injuries in back-to-back games, including safety Warren Saba and tight end Joey Magnifico. If they can stay healthy and focus on their strength of running the ball, they might earn their first win of the season in Week 3 when they battle the Maulers (Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET on USA).
RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast "The No. 1 Ranked Show with RJ Young." Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young, and subscribe to "The RJ Young Show" on YouTube. He is not on a StepMill.