By Michael Cohen
FOX Sports Writer
DETROIT — Last season, the New Jersey Generals were the kings of the North Division in the USFL, cruising to a 9-1 regular season record and a berth in the playoffs. This season, the Michigan Panthers appear ready to challenge for the crown, as they are off to a 2-0 start.
Now, the Panthers will be a home team for the first time, hosting the Generals at Detroit's Ford Field on Sunday.
Here’s a breakdown of Sunday’s matchup (4 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app).
New Jersey overview: Though the Generals were upset by the Stars in last year’s Division Finals, there’s no question they were one of the best teams in the league, tying Birmingham for the most regular season wins with nine. Head coach Mike Riley, whose previous head coaching experience includes runs with Oregon State (1997-98, 2003-14), the San Diego Chargers (1999-2001) and Nebraska (2015-17), is back for a second year after doubling as the team’s general manager in 2022.
Riley and the Generals roll into Week 3 on the heels of an impressive 20-3 win over the Maulers in which they limited Pittsburgh to just 166 yards of total offense and forced three turnovers (two fumbles, one interception).
Michigan overview: After a 2-8 campaign in 2022, the Panthers replaced head coach Jeff Fisher with Mike Nolan, another NFL mainstay who served as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers from 2005-08 and worked most recently as the defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys in 2020. This is Nolan’s first foray outside the NFL since he was the linebackers coach at Louisiana State from 1985-86.
The Panthers enter the weekend as one of three undefeated teams alongside the Stallions (2-0) and New Orleans Breakers (2-0). They’ve won their first two games by 30 combined points — 29-13 over the Houston Gamblers; 24-10 over the Philadephia Stars — and lead the league in turnover margin at plus-five.
Generals player to watch: Tailback Darius Victor is tied with Michigan’s Reggie Corbin for the league lead in rushing yards with 160 through the first two games. Victor posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons at Towson in 2014 and 2015 with 29 rushing touchdowns during that span. His résumé includes brief NFL stints with the New Orleans Saints (2017) and Arizona Cardinals (2017-18) but never reached the active roster in either location. He was named the USFL’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2022 after rushing for 578 yards and a league-best nine touchdowns.
Panthers player to watch: It would be easy to choose Corbin here, especially after he ran for 131 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries in last week’s win over the Stars. But defensive end Breeland Speaks is off to a flying start with four sacks in his first two games. No other player has more than two sacks this season. The 6-foot-3, 285-pound Speaks was a second-round pick by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2018 but only spent two years with the organization, his tenure impeded by a violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. From that point forward, Speaks spent time with the Las Vegas Raiders, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants and Buffalo Bills but never appeared in a regular season game.
Stats to know: Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Brown and Generals defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell are overseeing two of the most aggressive, ball-hawking units in the league this season.
The Panthers lead the USFL in turnover margin at plus-five thanks to a league-best eight takeaways in two games: four interceptions by four different players to go along with four fumbles recovered. Safety Corrion Ballard from Utah has two forced fumbles.
The Generals, meanwhile, are fourth in the league in turnover margin at plus-one but are tied for second in takeaways with four: two interceptions and two fumbles recovered. Linebacker Frank Ginda of San Jose State ranks third in the league in tackles with 17 and intercepted a pass last week.
Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Cohen13.