USFL 2023 season preview: Stacked Birmingham Stallions seek to run it back

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The Birmingham Stallions return the core of their 2022 USFL Championship team.

With depth and experience at quarterback with both J’Mar Smith and Alex McGough, the Stallions are the only team in the sport that can claim continuity dating back to last year. Skip Holtz is the only head coach in the league who will start Week 1 with the same quarterbacks he selected in the inaugural USFL draft.

Smith is in year 7 of his partnership with Holtz, dating back to Smith’s freshman year at Louisiana Tech, where he played quarterback and Holtz was head coach. In his last two years that Smith has started for Holtz, the two have combined to go 21-2 in college and professional football.

Last season, Smith led the Stallions in passing with 1,573 yards and 10 touchdowns.

McGough, who was Holtz’s first pick in last year’s draft, adds not only a year of experience in the league and Holtz’s system, but a dual-threat element. In fact, in the USFL title game, McGough played wide receiver in an emergency situation, underscoring his ability to run away from defenders.

Behind McGough and Smith, former Alabama Crimson Tide running back Bo Scarbrough returns as the man who will likely be tasked with carrying the mail for the Stallions. A midseason signing last year, Scarbrough bolstered an otherwise shaky running game and added a leadership and championship quality that Holtz couldn’t have been more impressed with.

Scarbrough won two national titles in three seasons at Alabama. He is one of the few players who can claim ownership of a national title and a professional football title.

As a wide receiver, Marlon Williams is poised to become one of the most dominant playmakers in the USFL. After establishing himself as the team’s No. 2 target last year behind USFL alum Victor Bolden, he’s poised to lead the Stallions’ wide receiver room.

Even as the No. 2 option, Williams led the Stallions in receiving yards (474) and receiving touchdowns (four) in 2022.

While it’s clear the Stallions will have experience and offensive playmaking options, their team’s strength last year is poised to become their team’s strength this year: defense.

Stallions defensive coordinator John Chavis assembled a defense that featured one of the best linebacking corps in the league. With former unanimous All-American defensive back Scooby Wright manning the middle of the defense, expect Chavis’ corps to live up to its moniker and show a marked increase in productivity.

Wright did the the game-enhancing pick-six in the USFL title game, a 33-30 win against the Philadelphia Stars last July

Highlights from the USFL title game

Highlights from the USFL title game

Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe break down their best plays of the USFL Championship, including the huge contributions of Bo Scarbrough and Scooby Wright.

However, with DeMarquis Gates, last season’s leader in tackles and sacks, having moved on to the NFL’s Chicago Bears, expect safety JoJo Tillery to become a much bigger presence on defense. With the ability to play both safety positions, nickel and linebacker, Tillery recorded 56 tackles, including a sack, in 2022, second best on the team.

Among the newcomers, old ones Texas A&M tight end Jace Sternbergerwho earned consensus All-American honors in 2018 after catching 47 passes for 804 receiving yards, could become a primary target in the passing game for the Stallions.

The Stallions were the only team in the league to play their entire 2022 regular season at home, and will be asked to prove they can play true road games for the first time this season. Of course, as long as you call them “champions,” the Stallions shouldn’t mind the challenge.

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 i subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on YouTube.

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