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The USFL begins this weekend. Here’s what you need to know

The players, the format, and the weird space goblin of Spring football.

Syndication: Observer and?Eccentric John Heider/hometownlife.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

Spring football. It’s a tradition like no other. It feels like every other year we have a new league trying to make year-round football a thing, and we get all excited before watching it fold a couple of months later. This time it’s the new USFL trying to make this experiment work again, and Week 1 is right around the corner, starting on Saturday, April 16.

If you can’t wait for football to return, or you just want to see if someone can finally make Spring football stick, we’re here to break down who’s running the USFL in 2022, the teams taking the field, and which city now has a new mascot that looks like a stoned space goblin.

Who is running the USFL?

The new USFL has no ties to the league that operated from 1983 to 1986. Instead the rights to the name and trademarks were acquired by investor Brian Woods. Woods then took on Fox Sports as a major investor, moving into the role of league president.

Fox Sports will serve as the owner of the league, following a reported $150M investment over three years. That, paired with a broadcast partnership on its networks, create a scenario where the alternate league might actually work.

What are the teams in 2022 and where will they play?

The inaugural season will feature eight teams divided into two divisions, the North and South.

North Division

  • Michigan Panthers
  • New Jersey Generals
  • Philadelphia Stars
  • Pittsburgh Maulers

South Division

  • Birmingham Stallions
  • Houston Gamblers
  • New Orleans Breakers
  • Tampa Bay Bandits

All games are being played at Protective Stadium and Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama. Rather than having teams travel for home and away games, the initial season will keep all games local.

Any players I might know?

The 2022 USFL Draft was held in late February and took an interesting approach in its first year. Instead of opening up the entire player pool, teams were forced to draft specific positions by round in a snake draft. Quarterbacks went first, then defensive ends, etc.

Of these drafted players you probably might know:

  • Jordan Ta’amu. former Ole Miss QB. Spent time with the Texans, Commanders, and Panthers. Was also quarterback of the St. Louis Battlehawks in the XFL. He will start for the Tampa Bay Bandits.
  • Jonathan Newsome, two year defensive end for the Colts and 2014 NFL Draft pick. Selected by the Birmingham Stallions.
  • Paxton Lynch. Former Broncos 1st round pick at QB. Now with the Michigan Panthers.

The majority of players are former college stars who either didn’t make it to the NFL after trying out on practice squads, or spent time in the CFL before now trying to use the USFL as way to garner interest from NFL teams.

Are there any rule changes from the NFL?

The USFL is implementing several rule changes, some of which are modifications of current NFL rules, others which are taken from the XFL.

  • Three options after a touchdown: A traditional PAT, a two-point conversion from the two yard line, and a three-point conversion from the 10 yard line.
  • Overtime will consist of three alternating two-point conversion attempts with the points leader winning the game. If the game is tied it will become sudden death on two-point attempts.
  • Two forward passes behind the line of scrimmage are legal.
  • Instead of officials measuring down and distance a microchip in the ball will report placement to officials to decide whether a play is a first down.

You said something about a stoned space goblin?

Hell yeah, look at this thing for the Philadelphia Stars!

Whatever this mascot it, I know it’s going to become best friends with Gritty.

How can I watch?

Opening week will air on several networks between Fox and NBC.

Saturday, April 16

  • New Jersey Generals vs. Birmingham Stallions — 7:30 p.m. ET, Fox and NBC

Sunday, April 17

  • Houston Gamblers vs. Michigan Panthers — 12:00 p.m. ET, NBC
  • Philadelphia Stars vs. New Orleans Breakers — 4:00 p.m. ET, USA Network
  • Tampa Bay Bandits vs. Pittsburgh Maulers — 8:00 p.m. ET, FS1

Can I bet on the USFL?

Why yes, yes you can. Head over to DraftKings Sportsbook, where the Tampa Bay Bandits are +425 favorites to win the inaugural title. The full title odds are as follows:

Tampa Bay Bandits: +425
Michigan Panthers: +450
New Orleans Breakers: +500
Philadelphia Stars: +600
Pittsburgh Maulers: +600
Houston Gamblers: +750
New Jersey Generals: +750
Birmingham Stallions: +900

Should I get emotionally invested in this?

I don’t know ... why not? Look, I know that we’ve done this dance with Spring football before, and every time it feels like these leagues die out right when we start to enjoy them — but everyone has a vested interest in making this work.

The networks want ratings during a slower time in the sporting calendar, and Fox Sports is footing some of the bill. This Birmingham-based launch feels a little more realistic than getting eight cities to buy in and support new teams immediately, with everyone traveling all over the country.

Hell, might as well enjoy it — and if it doesn’t work there’s always the XFL next year.