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The Championship That Never Was: New Jersey vs. Birmingham

NFL tradition dictates that the previous season’s champion normally begins its next season at home in a primetime game on opening night. Very little variation has been made in this custom over the years. It’s a tradition that the USFL has taken on as the FOX Sports-owned league begins its sophomore season.

The second half of a Saturday doubleheader of football action finds the league at the primary site of its sole hub from the 2022 season, as Protective Stadium plays host to the 2022 USFL Champions, the Birmingham Stallions, for the second consecutive year.

After the Philadelphia Stars at Memphis Showboats contest kicks off the season proper, the slate of games in Birmingham kicks off with a showdown that, if the events of last year"s playoffs transpired differently, would have served as the USFL Championship.

New Jersey Meets Birmingham on Saturday Night

On paper, the second game of the day on Saturday looks to be a good one. The New Jersey Generals (9-1 in 2022) will take on the home-standing Birmingham Stallions (9-1 in 2022). Kickoff time is slated for just past 7:30 pm ET on FOX Sports.

Ahead of the new season, the lights of the Empire State Building on West 34th Street in New York City caught USFL fever. The top tourist attraction in America was illuminated in red, white, and blue earlier this week.

No Weather Concerns for Generals vs. Stallions

On several occasions in the first season, the league had to suspend play because of lightning in the area in Birmingham. At least for this Saturday night, however, there"s good news.

Current weather forecasts for Birmingham call for cloudy skies during the game and any chance of rain or thunderstorms should hold off until well after the game ends. Winds are projected to top out at just 6 MPH during the ballgame itself.

New Jersey Generals vs. Birmingham Stallions Betting Odds

As it stands currently, the oddsmakers have Birmingham as the heaviest favorite on the points spread (-5 1/2) and a -213 favorite on the money line. New Jersey counters as a +160 underdog on that same money line.

If you plan on betting on this or any other game happening this weekend, please wager responsibly.

Life After Turpin Begins Saturday for Generals

One of the major cogs of the New Jersey Generals" 9-1 record in the regular season last year was standout punt returner/ wide receiver, KaVontae Turpin. Upon the USFL season ending last summer, Turpin traded in his Generals jersey for a Dallas Cowboys uniform.

Between the USFL and the NFL, he played in 32 football games over nine months. Turpin"s marathon run on the gridiron finally ended in late January with the NFC Divisional Playoff, where last season"s MVP saw the Cowboys lose on the road to the San Francisco 49ers, 19-12.

While filling a gap from a player of Turpin"s ilk is a daunting task, luckily, the Generals have a pair of running backs returning from season one to create some thunder and lightning on offense.

USFL"s OPOY Reassumes His Throne

New Jersey"s rushing attack in 2022 was spearheaded by Darius Victor out of Towson University, who finished last season as the league"s Offensive Player of the Year, scoring nine touchdowns on 127 carries for 577 yards. He"ll be flanked by Trey Williams, and while the latter only got into the end zone twice last season, he ended the year ranked No. 2 in rushing yards in the league with 579.

“It"s good to come back, and you know your playbook already," Victor said recently. “Just having the same playbook, same words, and there might be some tweaks, but I go to bed with a smile on my face knowing that I know everything and I just go to practice and run fast and play football."

Birmingham Returns Most of its Roster This Year

The champions have retained a sizable chunk of their roster for season two. Several stalwarts will suit up once again this spring for the Stallions, such as starting quarterback J"Mar Smith, who passed for 1,573 yards last year en route to the title against Philadelphia.

Smith has turned the page on the championship run from last season.

“People still want to talk about it," Smith mentioned last month. “‘How"s it feel to win the championship of the new league?" I"m like, ‘It feels good." To have a city behind you, a city representing you, and going out and winning a championship for a city that supported you. Not being from here, it felt like home from the fans. Just winning that [championship] felt good for me."

Linebacker Scooby Wright Back to Aid Stallions on Defense

Fans of spring football already know the name, Scooby Wright. The linebacker has played in the three most recent spring leagues, beginning in 2019 with the late Alliance of American Football, which ceased operations after eight of 10 scheduled weekends due to bankruptcy, for the Arizona Hotshots.

Upon the reboot of the XFL three years ago, Wright was selected by the DC Defenders, appearing in all five of the team"s games. Ahead of what was to have been week six of a 10-week regular season, the league canceled the rest of its schedule because of COVID-19.

His football career was put on pause to move to the MMA cage, where Wright secured a win.

Scooby Wright returned to the gridiron with the Stallions, coming through when it mattered the most. On July 3, during the USFL Championship Game, he intercepted a pass from Philadelphia quarterback KJ Costello, returning it for a touchdown to give Birmingham the title.

If Wright can stay healthy, look for him to have another banner year as the anchor of the Stallions" defense.

Final Thoughts

This is the title game that fans of the USFL never got last summer. Expect plenty of fireworks in the nightcap on Saturday.

Prediction: Birmingham 31, New Jersey 28.

Featured Image Credit: Getty Images

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