Two football teams supposedly based in Pittsburgh and New Jersey meet in Canton Sunday in the home opener for both squads.
If that sounds a little off or confusing, well, that’s the USFL for you. Whether confused or not, Ohio bettors who like to watch and wager on football can get in action on it by using the second-tier pro league this spring until the NFL and NCAA return in August-September.
The USFL opened the second season of its revival over the weekend, with the Pittsburgh Maulers and New Jersey Generals both losing road games. The Generals, one of the USFL’s best teams last year, lost 27-10 to the Birmingham Stallions, while the Maulers, 2022’s worst team, lost 22-15 to the New Orleans Breakers.
After clashing at 1 p.m. next Sunday at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, where the league championship will be played for the second straight year in early July, one team will have an even record and one will remain winless.
The USFL kicks off its 2023 season this weekend. Here's five things to know about the teams calling Canton home this season, the Maulers and Generals. https://t.co/Dausz7S71c
— CantonRep.com (@CantonRepdotcom) April 14, 2023
It remains to be seen how the Canton area will respond to hosting a full season of USFL play by two teams with no local ties in the 23,000-seat stadium. The eight teams in the league played all of their regular-season games last year in Birmingham, Alabama, where attendance was sparse — to put it mildly — for many of the contests.
This year, there are four hub cities hosting home games for two teams apiece: Canton for the Maulers and Generals, Birmingham for the Stallions and Breakers, Memphis for the Memphis Showboats and Houston Gamblers, and Detroit for the Michigan Panthers and Philadelphia Stars. In a somewhat odd day/night doubleheader this weekend, Tom Benson Stadium also hosts the Panthers and Stars in a game at 7 p.m. Sunday. All games are nationally televised, whether on Fox, FS1, NBC/Peacock, or USA.
The USFL teams return many but not all of their players from last year’s rosters. That should be a good thing for the Generals, who are among the favorites to win the league despite Saturday night’s opening loss, and not as much for Pittsburgh, which started the season ranked last in odds to walk off its “home” field with a championship three months from now.
Hall of Fame to host retail betting, but not yet
Possibly by summer, the Hall of Fame Village expects as part of a broad development project to open a BetRivers retail sportsbook, as allowed under the state’s comparatively wide-open legal sports gaming law. No in-person betting will be possible yet for those attending Sunday’s Generals-Maulers game.
The legal mobile sportsbooks are happy, however, to offer USFL odds both with game lines and futures odds for league champion.
For Sunday, bet365 was among the first to post odds. It listed the Generals Monday morning as 2-point favorites, at -130 on the moneyline, with the Maulers +110. The over/under was a modest 36.5. (The totals added up to 37 in both teams’ openers.)
The sportsbooks generally listed New Jersey as the second favorite behind last year’s champion, Birmingham, in preseason title odds. Many had yet to post updated odds after the weekend’s games. Tipico listed odds Monday the same as before the season started, with New Jersey at +280 just behind Birmingham at +275, and Pittsburgh behind everyone else at +1200.
Disappointing starts to season
The Generals are again led by Mike Riley, last year’s Coach of the Year of a 9-1 team that lost in the playoffs, but 2022 league MVP KaVontae Turpin, a wide receiver/kick returner, graduated to the Dallas Cowboys. They do return last year’s Offensive Player of the Year, running back Darius Victor.
Victor carried eight times for 84 yards in Saturday night’s loss to the Stallions as part of a strong team rushing attack — 30 carries for 192 yards — but the alternating quarterback combo of De’Andre Johnson and Dakota Prukop was unable to get the Generals into the end zone more than once. The game was tied 10-10 in the first half, but Birmingham scored 17 unanswered points in the second.
While the Maulers have a new coach in longtime NFL assistant Ray Horton, they gave little indication in Sunday’s loss of being much improved from last year’s 1-9 team that scored the fewest points in the USFL and allowed the most.
Pittsburgh did have the game tied late, 15-15, thanks to defensive and special teams touchdowns, but its two quarterbacks, James Morgan and Troy Williams, combined for 10 of 27 passing for 72 yards. The Breakers led the Maulers in total yards, 332-156, and in time of possession, by about 37 to 23 minutes.
Photo: Jason Miller/USFL/Getty Images