USFL Week 4 power rankings: South Division flexes its muscles

The New Orleans Breakers remain the only unbeaten team in the USFL, having improved to 4-0 thanks to a narrow victory over the New Jersey Generals this past weekend.

It remains to be seen how long the Breakers can keep it up, but there will be no shortage of competition in the South Division, which appears to be stacked. Three of the top four teams in this week's power rankings reside in the South, including defending champion Birmingham at No. 2.

Let's take an updated look around the league with our latest edition of the 2023 USFL power rankings.

1. New Orleans Breakers (4-0, 2-0 in South Division)

Last week: Defeated Generals, 20-17.

The Breakers' offense continues to feature running back Wes Hills, who followed up his 191-yard rushing performance in Week 3 with 159 yards from scrimmage in the win over New Jersey in Canton on Sunday.

Hills scored two rushing TDs to bring his tally to eight through just four weeks of play. That's one shy of the mark New Jersey running back Darius Victor set last season on his way to being named Offensive Player of the Year. Hills has been a workhorse, with 91 total touches over the last three weeks. That’s more than double the next closest player in the league over that span (Michigan’s Reggie Corbin with 44 touches).

The win was massive for Breakers coach John DeFilippo, who called Mike Riley’s defense the best they'd faced all year.

2. Birmingham Stallions (3-1, 1-1 in South)

Last week: Defeated Maulers, 24-20.

The win wasn’t pretty, but it was good enough for the Stallions to get back in the win column after suffering just their second regular-season loss since the USFL returned in 2022. The win was sealed by former Clemson wideout Deon Cain, who returned a kickoff 95 yards for the game-winning score in the fourth quarter.

It was Cain's second return TD of the season, as he has benefited from the league's efforts to increase kickoff returns by moving the kickoff spot back to the 20-yard line. The USFL hoped to have at least 90% of kickoffs returned — that number is currently just under 94%, up from 79% last year.

With their win against Pittsburgh, the Stallions remain undefeated in Canton, Ohio, at 3-0 heading into a Week 5 clash with Houston, a game that has South Division playoff implications.

3. New Jersey Generals (2-2, 2-0 in North)

Last week: Lost to Breakers, 20-17.

The Generals were handed just their fourth loss since the USFL returned last April. Their 176 rushing yards against New Orleans were negated by 105 yards in penalties and a passing game that amassed just 113 yards — with 62 yards coming on a TD pass caught by Cam Echols-Luper — and three sacks of quarterback De'Andre Johnson.

Former Wisconsin LB Chris Orr is tied for the league lead in tackles per game (10.3) for the league’s No. 1 scoring defense. 

4. Houston Gamblers (2-2, 1-1 in South)

Last week: Beat Stars, 41-16. 

The Gamblers played their best game since the USFL returned last April with a resounding win against Philadelphia at Ford Field on Saturday. Curtis Johnson’s crew was led by former Florida running back Mark Thompson, who rushed for 134 yards and three TD on just 13 carries.

Kenji Bahar put together a third-straight 200-yard passing performance with an efficient 15-of-21 passing day for 230 yards with two TDs. Houston’s offense has scored at least 30 points in three straight games — a mark they didn't reach once last season.

With their second win in as many weeks, the Gamblers head into a pivotal Week 5 South Division showdown with defending USFL champ Birmingham at Protective Stadium.

5. Pittsburgh Maulers (1-3, 1-1 in North) 

Last week: Lost to Stallions, 24-20. 

The Maulers gave the defending USFL champions a scare in Canton, but they fell short in taking their third loss in four weeks. Pittsburgh’s inability to finish drives with TDs inside the red zone proved to be the difference. After entering the red zone three times against the Stallions, the Maulers settled for field goals on each trip. Pittsburgh has just one TD in 12 red zone trips this season — an 8% success rate. 

But the passing attack showed life with Troy Williams behind center, as the QB completed 20 of 32 passes for 210 yards, and also went for 64 yards and a score on the ground. Williams had a hand in 41 of the Maulers' 49 plays (84%), including both passes and runs.

6. Philadelphia Stars (1-3, 0-2 in North)

Last week: Lost to Gamblers, 41-16. 

Bart Andrus’ Stars might want to forget their loss to the Gamblers. There was almost nothing they’d want to keep from it, including having quarterback Case Cookus battered with six sacks. Cookus has been sacked at least four times in every game this season, for a total of 19. That's seven more than the next closest team (Pittsburgh).

The Stars' defense has also had struggles, including allowing 463 yards last weekend on an amazing 7.5 yards per play.

With six games left to play, Andrus and the Stars have work to do to push for the second playoff spot in the North, as they sit in last place in their division.

7. Memphis Showboats (1-3, 0-2 in South)

Last week: Beat Panthers, 29-10.

The Memphis defense had recorded just one takeaway through the first three weeks of the season and ranked last in every major statistical defensive category.

But against the Panthers, Carnell Lake’s defense came alive with three takeaways, including two interceptions, in their first win of the season — second in the franchise’s last nine games under Memphis coach Todd Haley. It was also the first win for anyone in a Showboats jersey since 1985.

The Showboats also benefited from Haley’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-3 from the Michigan 32 with his team up 16-10 in the fourth quarter. Memphis has gone for it on fourth down more than any team in the league this season (nine) and also has the most conversions (five).

8. Michigan Panthers (2-2, 1-1 in North)

Last week: Lost to Showboats, 29-10.

Neither Josh Love nor Carson Strong looked comfortable at quarterback against the Showboats, combining to complete 19 of 27 passes for just 134 yards, and an interception apiece. Lost fumbles by Love (on a strip-sack) and wide receiver Joe Walker (on a kick return) turned out to be indicative of the final score.

After eight takeaways over their first two games resulted in two wins, the defense has only managed one takeaway over the last two games — both losses. 

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 Number One College Football Show" on YouTube.