USFL Week 5 power rankings: Gamblers ride chaos to the top
Houston has won three straight, and with the rest of the USFL in chaos, the Gamblers have used their run to rise to the top.
Halfway through the 2023 USFL season, every team in the North Division has an identical 2-3 record.
Every team in the South Division is in the hunt for both playoff spots — separated by two games from top to bottom.
Let's get hectic and take a look around the league with our latest edition of the 2023 USFL power rankings.
1. Houston Gamblers (3-2, 2-1 in South)
Last week: Beat the Stallions, 27-20.
Terry Wilson took advantage of his first opportunity to start for the Gamblers in 2023. After throwing for just 48 yards through three quarters, the Del City, Oklahoma, native uncorked a 50-yard TD pass to receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams for a go-ahead score in their win against the Stallions.
But the offense is centered around a run game that features Mark Thompson, who rushed for 78 yards on 16 rushes in the victory. Thompson now has scored eight TDs through three games after missing the first two games with an injury. He is averaging a touchdown for every 6.3 carries this season, and the Gamblers are 3-0 with him in the lineup.
The win against Birmingham also was the cleanest that Houston had played all year, with zero turnovers and zero penalties.
Week 6 matchup: vs. New Jersey, Sunday at 4 p.m. ET, on FOX and the FOX Sports app.
2. New Orleans Breakers (4-1, 2-1 in South Division)
Last week: Lost to Showboats, 17-10.
The Breakers broke down. They began Week 5 as the lone undefeated team left in the USFL and left it with a loss in which they failed to score at least 22 for the first time all year. After averaging 35 points per game in the first three weeks, the Breakers offense has come back to Earth over the last two, scoring only 15 points per game.
Running back Wes Hills entered the game as the league’s leading rusher in yardage and touchdowns. The Memphis Showboats held him to just 38 yards on 14 rushes and didn't allow him to reach the end zone once.
Week 6 matchup: vs. Philadelphia, Sunday at noon ET on FS1 and the FOX Sports app.
3. Birmingham Stallions (3-2, 1-2 in South)
Last week: Lost to Gamblers, 27-20.
Skip Holtz's Stallions are 14-3 since USFL's return last season. But two of their three losses have come in the last three weeks. Moreover, two of those three losses have come to the Gamblers, who feel right at home in Birmingham.
The defense has slipped a bit as well. Last season, the Stallions led the league in sacks with 27. Through five games this season, they only have seven, including just two over their last three games.
Quarterback Alex McGough completed 24 of 37 passes for 209 yards and rushed for 76 with two TDs in last weekend's loss. With the Showboats winning, the South Division is wide open and the defending champions will have to summon an impressive second-half run if they expect to repeat as South Division champs.
Week 6 matchup: At Michigan, Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app.
4. Memphis Showboats (2-3, 1-2 in South)
Last week: Beat the Breakers, 17-10.
Showboats QB Cole Kelley completed 24 of 36 passes for 224 yards with a TD, while the Memphis defense became the first to hold New Orleans to less than 250 pass yards in a game.
The Breakers walked into Protective Stadium leading the USFL in total offense and tied for first in scoring. The Showboat defense held the Breakers to just 10 points. Safety Troy Warner led the outstanding display of defense with 12 tackles.
Despite the recent surge, Memphis still needs to get its run game in gear. The Showboats are averaging just 2.4 yards per carry over their last three games.
Week 6 matchup: vs. Pittsburgh, Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET on USA.
5. New Jersey Generals (2-3, 2-1 in North)
Last week: Lost to Stars, 24-21.
Despite holding the Stars to 0-for-4 inside the red zone, the Generals took a kicking — surrendering eight field goals and losing the game on a 55-yarder from Luis Aguilar.
Starting quarterback De'Andre Johnson was knocked out of the game in the second half, changing the identity of the offense with the entrance of backup Kyle Lauletta.
Last season, New Jersey led the USFL in third-down conversion percentage (43%), but that’s been a surprising weakness recently — the Generals have only gone 4-of-24 (17%) on third down over the last three games.
Week 6 matchup: vs. Houston, Sunday at 4 p.m. ET, on FOX and the FOX Sports app.
6. Pittsburgh Maulers (2-3, 2-1 in North)
Last week: Beat the Panthers, 23-7.
After winning last week, the Maulers have doubled their 2022 win total by the halfway point of the 2023 season.
Pittsburgh quarterback Troy Williams had a day. He put up 243 of the Maulers’ 299 total yards, completing 15-of-19 passes for 184 yards, with 59 rushing yards and three total TDs. Since Williams took over as the starting QB three weeks ago, he’s accounted for 80% of the team’s yards (passing and rushing).
The Maulers began Week 4 having converted just one of 12 red-zone attempts into a TD. Against the Panthers, though, Pittsburgh scored three touchdowns on four trips to the red zone.
Pittsburgh’s defense created four turnovers in a win that has vaulted the Maulers into a three-way tie for first place in the North Division. Cornerback Mark Gilbert contributed an INT, two tackles and five passes defended in the win on Saturday.
Week 6 matchup: vs. Memphis, Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET on USA.
7. Philadelphia Stars (2-3, 1-2 in North)
Last week: Beat the Generals, 24-21.
In a rematch of the North conference title game last season in Canton, kicker Luis Aguilar was a perfect 8-for-8 on field goals, including a game-winner of 55 yards as the clock expired in the win against New Jersey. To put Aguilar's feat into perspective, only one NFL kicker has ever gone 8-for-8 in a game. That was the late Rob Bironas, who did it in 2007.
While Aguilar’s reliability was not just a comfort but the difference between a win and a loss, Bart Andrus will need to find out how to score in the red zone after going 0-for-4 inside the 20-yard line.
He also needs to figure out how to better protect quarterback Case Cookus. The Stars offensive line is on pace to allow more than 40 sacks this season.
Week 6 matchup: vs. New Orleans, Sunday at noon ET on FS1 and the FOX Sports app.
8. Michigan Panthers (2-3, 1-2 in North)
Last week: Lost to Maulers, 23-7.
Panthers defensive lineman Breeland Speaks is making a case for Defensive Player of the Year. Against Pittsburgh, he recorded six tackles, three sacks and a fumble recovery.
But as good as Speaks and the defense could play at times against the Maulers, Michigan's offense looked stagnant for a third straight week. After a TD on their opening drive, the Panthers went scoreless over the final 54 minutes of the game.
The Panthers are averaging a league-low 10 points per game over their three-game losing streak, and quarterbacks Josh Love and Carson Strong have both struggled.
Strong completed 13 of 23 passes for just 94 yards with an INT and was sacked four times. Love completed eight of 12 passes for 68 yards with a TD and an INT.
Week 6 matchup: vs. Birmingham, Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app.
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.