In a rematch of last year’s USFL Championship Game, the Philadelphia Stars face the Birmingham Stallions with a chance to clinch a fifth-straight appearance in the league playoffs (dating back to the 80s version of the league). They can do so with a win, plus losses by division rivals Pittsburgh and New Jersey.
The North Division is separated by just two games with three weeks left in the regular season. But Bart Andrus' Stars (4-3) have become the hottest team in the North, winning three straight after losing 41-16 in Week 4 to the Houston Gamblers.
With the relationship between quarterback Case Cookus and wideout Corey Coleman continuing to develop, the Stars will look to earn their first win against the Stallions (5-2) since the USFL’s return last season.
In the South, all four teams are separated by just one game, and all four are above .500. But this game between the two division leaders is the beginning of the three-game stretch in which every opponent Skip Holtz’s Stallions face has a winning record.
To get past the Stars, Holtz will lean on quarterback Alex McGough, who leads the league in passing TDs and points scored. He’s proven to be an elite problem solver and leads his team in both passing and rushing.
The Stallions defense has been the most important unit on the field for Birmingham. The Stallions are 19-2 when they hold teams to 27 or fewer points. Last weekend, in a 24-20 win against New Orleans, linebacker Quentin Poling racked up double-digit tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and a fumble recovered.
An investment in special teams has also paid dividends. Two of the three kickoffs returned for touchdowns have come from Birmingham wideout Deon Cain.
The USFL has been kind to kick returners with 93.5% of all kickoffs being returned through eight weeks of play. For comparison, 38% of kickoffs were returned in the NFL last season.
Meanwhile, for the Stars, Coleman has emerged as the talent he was at Baylor, talent that led to his first-round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Defensively, no team has surrendered more points (163) than the Stars, but they also boast the player with the most INTs this season in Amani Dennis, who pairs up with former Michigan Man Channing Stribling.
Wideouts Davion Davis and Myron Mitchell will have their hands full with the Stars' secondary, but the game might be decided in the trenches. CJ Marable has emerged as a rushing threat, and linebacker Gabe Sewell has become the unsung leader of the front seven at Philly.
With both teams vying for their respective division crown, this game might once again be played in Canton, Ohio, to finish the season.
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.