USFL Week 4 Power Rankings: Stallions hang onto top spot
The unbeaten Birmingham Stallions remain atop our USFL Week 4 Power Rankings. See how RJ Young ranks the rest of the field.
By RJ Young
FOX Sports Writer
Following Week 4, the Birmingham Stallions continue to be the only unbeaten team in the USFL, but the New Orleans Breakers aren’t letting them run away with the South Division crown.
The New Jersey Generals remain undefeated against North Division foes, but the Philadelphia Stars are just a game back after a valiant effort to win their matchup with Michigan.
Add to this that three of the league’s top-scoring offenses are in the South Division and two of the top three scoring defenses are in the North Division, and you can see how nearly halfway through the season, there’s still plenty to play for in the league's inaugural season.
USFL Power Rankings after Week 4
Let's take a look at how the latest power rankings shake out:
1. Birmingham Stallions (4-0, 3-0)
The return of Alex McGough to the Stallions didn’t go as smoothly as perhaps he or Birmingham coach Skip Holtz would’ve wanted — McGough threw for just one more yard (126) than Bandits quarterback Jordan Ta’amu (125).
But McGough didn't need to star, because the Stallions' defense and special teams are that good.
Even without linebacker DeMarquis Gates, the Stallions presented a challenge to the Tampa Bay Bandits so fierce that we briefly saw the return of ‘Angry Todd’ Haley on the sidelines.
With timely tackles from a defense led by former All-American linebacker Scooby Wright and clutch kicking from Brandon Aubrey, the Stallions managed to remain undefeated through Week 4.
Slow starts have been the Stallions' bug-a-boo from the jump. With each passing week of the offense not clicking, the Stallions look like they’re playing with fire, and they’re liable to get burned if they start slowly once more when they face the Philadelphia Stars, who are tied for the league lead in scoring at 23.75 points per game.
2. New Orleans Breakers (3-1, 2-1)
Start with this: The Breakers put up 506 yards of offense on Sunday in their 23-16 win against the Houston Gamblers. Follow that with the fact that the Breakers turned the ball over four times — including three INTs and a lost fumble by QB Kyle Sloter — and you can see how it was a tie game with seconds left to play.
How Kyle Sloter transitioned from WR to QB
Newly-signed New Orleans kicker Taylor Bertolet opened the scoring with a 50-yard field goal — the longest of the season to that point — against his former college football head coach at Texas A&M.
But he was outdone by his counterpart with the game on the line — Gamblers kicker Nick Vogel(tron) smashed a 53-yarder to give Houston a 16-13 lead with just more than three minutes left. Vogel is 4-for-4 from 40 yards or more.
Sloter started 7-for-9 for 77 yards in the first quarter before fumbling the ball. He finished 26 of 41 for 397 pass yards, the first 300-yard passing performance of the season. Running back Jordan Ellis rushed for 104 yards on 19 rushes. Jay Adams caught six balls for 101 yards and the game-winning TD.
The Breakers' defense did a tremendous job stymieing running back Mark Thompson, who rushed for just 12 yards in the first three quarters of play.
The Breakers get a tough test in Week 5 against North Division leader New Jersey in a game that will have Power Ranking implications.
3. New Jersey Generals (3-1, 3-0)
The two-quarterback system continues to pay dividends for the Generals, with Luis Perez and De'Andre Johnson combining to complete 20 of 24 attempts for 200 yards in their 21-13 victory against the Pittsburgh Maulers.
Since dropping their season-opener to the league’s only undefeated team, the Generals have mounted a three-game win streak and taken command of the North Division.
Generals coach Mike Riley must be pleased with a team that, nearly halfway through the season, looks like a shoo-in for the playoffs in June.
4. Philadelphia Stars (2-2, 2-1)
The Stars' 26-25 win over Michigan on Friday game included four lead changes, six turnovers and 34 points off those turnovers. There were only two punts the entire game.
Coach Bart Andrus said QB Bryan Scott is expected to be out three weeks, and he will not add another quarterback to the roster. Instead, the Stars will ride with Case Cookus as the starter and go with receiver Maurice Alexander Jr. as the backup. Alexander played quarterback at Florida International University.
5. Tampa Bay Bandits (2-2, 1-2)
The Bandits have performed the USFL’s best Jekyll and Hyde impersonation so far this season.
Coming off an outstanding Week 3 performance in which Ta’amu passed for 255 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Bandits to a comeback win, the Tampa offense struggled to do much of anything against the Stallions, mustering just 158 total yards and rushing for only 53.
The defense looked like one of the best in the league after Week 1, and that might still be true. The Stallions struggled to run and pass against Pepper Johnson’s squad, which held the Stallions to just 3.7 yards per play.
Tampa Bay's ability to stop the run will be crucial In their Week 5 game against Michigan, which possesses one of the league’s most potent rushing attacks.
6. Houston Gamblers (1-3, 0-3)
Houston gave New Orleans fits in the first half on Sunday, notching a blocked field goal, an interception and a fumble.
Beniquez Brown showed great awareness and hands for his first forced turnover of the season. Donald Payne came up with the first fumble recovery and continues to lead the league in tackles. By the midway point of the third quarter, the Gamblers had three sacks and three takeaways — only to lose their third straight game this season.
The Gamblers aren't getting consistency at quarterback from Clayton Thorson, who completed 15 of 26 passes for 127 yards and a TD.
And while they boasted the league’s leading rusher in Thompson, the big back failed to run the ball well — he was held to just 10 yards on 14 rushes. As a team, Houston ran for just 28 yards on 20 rushes against a dominant Breakers front.
The Gamblers can take solace in having a defense that keeps them in ball games, and in having a cornerback in Will Likely who has racked up seven tackles, six pass breakups, an interception and a fumble recovery.
7. Michigan Panthers (1-3, 1-2)
The Panthers had a chance late to beat the Stars in Jeff Fisher’s first matchup against Andrus, his boyhood friend and former assistant coach in the NFL. But Michael Carrizosa missed a 21-yard chip shot that gave Philadelphia the win.
"Your kicker has to make that kick," Fisher said. "That’s not even a PAT."
He’ll be hard-pressed to find a Panther fan who disagrees with that assessment.
Running back Reggie Corbin enjoyed another great rushing day with 152 yards on just 12 carries, punctuated by an 88-yard scamper for a score in the first half.
The Panthers totaled 251 yards on the ground — a gaudy number Haley will be sure to highlight in his short week of preparation against the Panthers for Friday night’s game.
8. Pittsburgh Maulers (0-4, 0-3)
Just as things looked like they might turn around for the Maulers, they lost their best wide receiver in Bailey Gaither for a consecutive week. But Tre Walker stepped up, catching nine passes 110 yards.
Walker was targeted 17 times by quarterback Kyle Lauletta — who finished 15 of 32 for 169 yards — as the Generals put the "maul" in Maulers.
The Generals gave the Maulers a chance by committing unforced errors — a snap over the quarterback’s head inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, a holding penalty inside their own 10 — and failing to extend a lead that was once 11 points.
But the Maulers couldn’t find any real passing offense outside of Walker to support a run game that looks promising.
Four weeks into the season, they’re the only winless team in the USFL. With a game against the Houston Gamblers next, the Maulers are looking less and less like they'll have a chance to move into the playoff picture.
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.