Stallions and Stars Meet in USFL Championship Rematch

Stallions and Stars Meet in USFL Championship Rematch

The owners of the USFL could not have asked for a better ending to the 2022 season. The championship game between the Birmingham Stallions and Philadelphia Stars was an instant classic full of drama, action, and suspense. That game occurred eleven months ago, though, and now we find ourselves in the home stretch of the 2023 season.

Because last year’s championship game was such a thriller, many people were looking forward to a week eight rematch between last year’s championship teams. A couple of weeks ago, though, it seemed like it might not be much of a game.

EARLY STRUGGLES

After week four, the Stars were 1-3, on a three-game losing streak, and last in their division. The team was struggling in several ways. The offensive line could not protect Case Cookus. The backfield was having little to no success running the ball. The defense was giving up touchdown after touchdown. It appeared this team might be on their way to a league-worst finish in 2023.

The Stallions were faring better, but they did not look as invincible as they did when they went 11-1 last season. After week five, the Stallions were 3-2, already having lost more games in 2023 than they did in 2022. They were 1-2 in their division and sitting outside playoff eligibility. Like the Stars, they were struggling to run the ball and struggling on defense. While no one was counting them out quite yet, they certainly had their fair share of doubters.

RECENT TURNAROUNDS

And yet, here we are in week eight, and we are getting the exact matchup we hoped for. The Stallions are now 5-2, having won their last two games—one against Michigan and one against New Orleans to avenge an earlier loss. They have the best record in the league and are sitting atop a loaded South Division. If they can win a couple more games, they should be able to lock up a playoff spot.

The Stars have seen a dramatic turnaround since being last in the North. They have won their last three games and are the hottest team in the USFL right now not named Memphis. The defense has seen marked improvement, carrying the team to multiple victories. For a few weeks, the offense had success moving the ball but struggled to finish drives and find the end zone. However, that all changed last week when the offense had an explosive 37-point outing against one of the best defenses in the league. The Stars appear to be firing on all cylinders now and are peaking at the right time.

KEYS TO THE GAME

For the Stallions, it’s simple what they need to do: slow down the Stars’ potent passing attack. The Stars have been the worst team running the ball this year, but they have the second-best passing attack. Case Cookus is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and he has a loaded wide receiver corps to throw to. In last week’s win, Cookus only completed 18 passes, but they went to 8 different receivers. Corey Coleman and Devin Gray both had four catches for 75 yards with a long of 56. Coleman added a touchdown.

The Stars finished the game with three touchdowns in four red zone attempts. They only allowed one sack, but they did turn the ball over twice. The Stallions have the fewest sacks in the league and the second-fewest takeaways. In their wins, the Stallions defense has been unyielding in the red zone, but they have struggled there in their losses. If they want to win this game, they need to get pressure on Cookus, force turnovers, and continue to not break when they bend.

Offensively, the Stallions need to feed C. J. Marable. The Stars have the best passing defense in the league, but they have the worst rush defense. The Stallions struggled to run the ball early in the year, but Marable has come on strong the past two weeks. In those two weeks alone, he ran for 186 yards (93 yards per game). If he can continue that streak this week, it bodes well for the Stallions offense.

As for the Stars, they need to keep their momentum alive. Their offense has improved and can continue to progress against a defense that has been porous at times. They particularly need to establish the run against the second-worst rush defense in the league after their own. They have been the worst team in the league running the ball, but they took a step forward last week when they ran for 114 yards against a stout Maulers defense. If they can continue that success against the Stallions, it will give Cookus more opportunities to establish a rhythm in the passing game.

Over the past three weeks, the Stars defense has been just good enough to win. In week five when their offense scored 24, they only allowed 21. In week six when they scored 16, they only allowed 10. And last week, when their offense scored 37, they kept Pittsburgh to 31. They need to keep that streak alive against the best offense in the USFL. The Stallions are averaging just shy of 28 points per game, so it’s likely they will score points against the Stars. The question is can the defense contain the Stallions enough to limit them to fewer points than the Stars offense can produce?

HIGH STAKES

Both teams sit atop their respective divisions but only by a game. A loss this week could bump them out of first place. As tight as the USFL is this year, no one can afford to lose a game. Both teams are aware of this fact, and they will be doing all they can to stretch their lead with a win.

I am expecting a great game. Like last year’s championship, I imagine there will be lots of twists and turns. Be sure to tune into this one at 3 pm EST on NBC and be careful not to look away. In the blink of an eye or the change of a channel, you will likely miss something major that we will be talking about in the week to come. And who knows? Last year’s championship rematch could even be this year’s championship preview.