The United States Football League is offering its own version of spring football.
And the Michigan Panthers are looking to impress right from the opening kickoff on Sunday when they clash with the Houston Gamblers.
The Panthers — the preseason favorite to win the inaugural campaign of a revamped spring professional football league — are projected as 2.5-point favorites to turn back the Gamblers, according to FanDuel, BetRivers, and BetMGM. Caesars has the Panthers as 3-point favorites to win the season opener. FanDuel and BetMGM have the over/under at 42.5, while BetRivers has the over/under at 43.5.
Making points a priority
When it comes to scoring points, the USFL isn’t playing by traditional rules of football. It’s a league looking to light up scoreboards with touchdowns and a variety of extra-point conversion options.
When teams score touchdowns, they’ll have a choice of going for a one-, two-, or three-point conversion. One point is earned for a made kick with the ball snapped from the 15-yard line. Two points are earned for a scrimmage play from the 2-yard line that successfully crosses the goal line. Three points are earned for a scrimmage play from the 10-yard line that crosses the goal line.
“Fans are the USFL’s top priority, so our rules are designed to give fans the traditional physical play they know and love while adding some modern fast-paced elements,” said Mike Pereira, USFL head of officiating, in a post on the USFL website. “The overwhelming majority of rules that govern gameplay in the USFL are standard at the professional or collegiate level. But we are incorporating a few unconventional ideas that we’re convinced will add offense, alter some coaching decisions and strategy for the better, and make it easier to get major penalty calls correct. Collectively, these changes will be good for the game of football and keep fans more engaged and entertained.”
— Michigan Panthers (@USFLPanthers) April 15, 2022
Frontrunners built to win it all
Michigan, coached by former longtime NFL coach Jeff Fisher, is one of eight teams that make up a league scheduled to play a 10-week regular season entirely in Birmingham, Alabama. A two-week postseason will be held at the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium next to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. The season culminates there with the USFL championship game on July 3.
The Panthers open the season expecting to lean on a familiar face for Michiganders when former Wolverines quarterback Shea Patterson steps behind center. Patterson is one of the more recognizable players in the new league, which will have games televised on the Fox and NBC networks. Patterson was the No. 1 overall pick in the USFL draft. He passed for 8,800 yards and threw 68 touchdown passes during a collegiate career that included spending time at Ole Miss before transferring to Michigan.
His backup, Paxton Lynch, a former NFL first-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos, passed for close to 9,000 yards and 59 TDs in college.
The Panthers will look to another former Big Ten playmaker in running back Stevie Scott III, an Indiana product, to supply a steady running attack. He plowed his way to more than 2,500 rushing yards and 30 TDs during three years as a Hoosier.
The defensive side of the football for the Panthers is more of an unknown. Former Iowa State standout defensive end JaQuan Bailey is considered the leader of the defense.
Houston is coached by Kevin Sumlin, who was a head coach in college at Arizona and Texas A&M. Quarterback Clayton Thorson (Northwestern), running back Mark Thompson (Florida), and offensive lineman Tyler Higby (Michigan State) are the most prominent players on the Gamblers’ roster.
Photo: John Heider/USA TODAY