1986 USFL Preview
Compliments of Lenny Wolf
Contributions by Paul Reeths
After 3 years of spring football, the USFL announced a move to the fall for the 1986 season. This effort never took the field, and the USFL folded. The USFL could have stayed afloat with a big network TV contract and/or a big cash award in their anti-trust suit against the NFL. While some USFL owners simply wanted to force a merger with the NFL, several others were prepared to go forward with the season even after the trial
1986 predicted order of finish
|LIBERTY DIVISION||INDEPENDENCE DIVISION|
|New Jersey Generals||Jacksonville Bulls|
|Birmingham Stallions||Tampa Bay Bandits|
|Memphis Showboats||Arizona Outlaws|
|Baltimore Stars||Orlando Renegades|
USFL Champion- New Jersey Generals
Head Coach- TBA
After two years in Philadelphia with attendance problems, the Stars bolted for Baltimore. Although they won their second USFL Championship in 85, they still suffered problems at the gate. Playing at the University of Maryland's Byrd Stadium, the team lost so much money that Myles Tanenbaum, the last of the original owners, had to be bailed out by Donald Trump's close friend Stephen Ross. Their move to Baltimore is official this year as they will play their home games in Memorial Stadium.
Baltimore has lost several key players to the NFL not to mention head coach Jim Mora, but still has All-USFL running back Kelvin Bryant back after rushing for 1,207 yards on 238 carries. Orlando's top running back Curtis Bledsoe (San Diego State) joins Bryant in the Stars' backfield. Veteran QB Chuck Fusina had consistency problems last year, but was awesome in the playoffs with his performance and leadership. Fusina was 303-of-496 last year for 3,496 yards and 20 touchdown passes. WR Scott Fitzkee is back after catching 73 balls for 882 yards and 3 touchdowns in 85. The offensive line looks solid although center Bart Oates has bailed out and joined the NFL Giants.
The defense has been one of the best in the USFL since 83. Linebacker appears to be a soft spot, however. DB Mike Lush comes back after grabbing 10 interceptions last year.
David Trout handles the placekicking chores again, but the Stars need a foot to replace punter Sean Landeta who left for big bucks with the NFL Giants. Replacing Mora is also a top priority.BIRMINGHAM STALLIONS
Head Coach- Rollie DotschBirmingham had one of the best teams on the field in 85, but some fans avoided Legion Field because of blue laws that prevented alcoholic beverages at Stallions games. The Stallions took the Eastern Conference with a 13-5 record, and an 8-1 record at home. They again have money and the support of the city with a solid team led by former Steelers QB Cliff Stoudt who rushed 80 times for 437 yards, keeping defenders guessing near their own goal line. Stoudt passed for 3,358 yards, completing 266 of 444 attempts with 34 touchdown passes. NFL defector Joe Cribbs returns to the Bills leaving a void in the Stallions backfield. Coach Rollie Dotsch likes a balanced attack, but may have to rely more on the pass this year due to inexperience in the backfield. Joel Coles and Paul Ott Carruth should get most of the rushing attempts this year. Wideouts Joey Jones and Ken Toler return. The Stallions need a placekicker.
DB Dennis Woodberry and LB's Herb Spencer and Ken Kelley lead the defense this year after the Stallions gave up the second fewest points in the league last year. Coach Dotsch needs to find a punter.MEMPHIS SHOWBOATS
Head Coach- Pepper Rodgers
The Showboats are one of the best USFL teams at the box office. This could be a tune up to lure a future NFL franchise. Memphis wanted to keep playing USFL games in the spring. They feel that if the USFL lawsuit against the NFL results in a merger, Memphis will be one of the teams the older league will include in a possible USFL/NFL merger package.
Defense could be a problem this year after several defenders jumped to the NFL. Reggie White leaves for the Eagles, DB Mossy Cade joins Green Bay and DE Sam Clancy bolts Memphis for Cleveland. Running back Tim Spencer (Ohio State) moves to San Diego, offensive tackle Luis Sharpe returns to the Cardinals. Defensive leaders looking to pick up the slack are former Michigan Panther linebacker John Corker, DE Calvin Clark and DB Barney Bussey.
Memphis looks to shine on the offensive side of the football again this year behind scrambler Walter Lewis and Mike Kelley sharing QB duties. Lewis ran for 591 yards on 65 attempts while completing 97 out of 184 passes for 16 touchdowns. Kelley was 165-of-260 for 2186 yards and 9 TDs. The Showboats receiving corp remains strong with Derrick Crawford and Greg Moser returning. Perry Kemp comes to the Boats from the Jacksonville Bulls. Roger Ruzek handles kicking duties, and Jim Miller punts.NEW JERSEY GENERALS
Head Coach- Jack Pardee
This team could make a splash in the NFL, and maybe even knock off an NFL contender. Generals owner Donald Trump wants a USFL Championship, something that could happen since the Generals merged with the Houston Gamblers. The biggest names moving from Houston to the Meadowlands are QB Jim Kelly and coach Jack Pardee. The Generals look to have the league title all sewn up from the get go with Kelly sharing the same backfield with Herschel Walker who has dominated the USFL the last three years running the ball. Trump keeps adding parts to this well oiled machine that he hopes will give him and New Jersey fans their first USFL Championship. Doug Flutie added a new feature to the Generals offense in 85 with his running ability. Again New Jersey fell short of the elusive USFL Championship Game that so many thought and wanted the Generals to host at the Meadowlands. Donald Trump expects nothing less than a championship this year. Jack Pardee takes over as head coach with the job of putting the USFL championship trophy in Trump's lap. On paper, New Jersey would give many NFL teams a run for their money on the offensive side of the football. Kelly expects to get the starting roll as the QB, while Doug Flutie says he intends to give Kelly a run for the job. Kelly contends that he will help Flutie understand the run-and-shoot offense that will use only one running back, no tight end, and four wideouts. "It doesn't make sense to me from the payroll standpoint," said Pardee. "But I'll gladly take both and let them compete for the job. Having two quarterbacks like that would be a coach's dream."
Pardee stands firm with the run-and-shoot. Critics say that Herschel Walker will have problems with no fullback and tight end to block for him. Pardee feels that with Kelly at QB, defenses won't be able to key on Walker with Kelly running and passing the ball all over the place!
The Generals have lost fullback Maurice Carthon to the NFL Giants. The Generals almost signed defensive end Richard Dent away from the NFL Bears, but missed out because of an option year in Dent's contract with Chicago.
Although the Generals appear to be the best USFL team ever assembled, they need help in the kicking department. If the USFL does squeeze the NFL for a merger it remains to be seen if talent laden New Jersey would be welcome into the older league.ARIZONA OUTLAWS
Head Coach- Frank Kush
The Outlaws are the only team left from last year's seven team Western Conference. Arizona finished fourth with an 8-10 record behind Houston, Denver and first place Oakland. They are considered to be the team to beat in the Independence Division this year with the most players with experience in the league. QB Doug Williams should have plenty of time to use his rifle arm behind a strong offensive line. Williams completed 271-of-509 passes for 3673 yards and 21 touchdown passes last year. Williams primary target should be Al Williams who caught 55 passes. Rick Neuheisel from the now inactive San Antonio Gunslingers backs up Williams. Top runner Reggie Brown leads the way after rushing for 1021 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
Questions marks remain on defense, but Veteran Kit Lathrop returns after recording 8 sacks last season. Jimmy Carter anchors the linebackers.JACKSONVILLE BULLS
Head Coach- Mouse Davis
This could be the best team in the division after merging with the Denver Gold. Jacksonville continued to be a fan favorite last year, and are considered one of the best run franchises in the short history of the USFL.
The Bulls finished last year with a 9-9 record, but expect to contend for a playoff berth this year behind coach Mouse Davis who is best known for bringing the run-and-shoot offense to Houston and Denver. Ed Luther and Bob Gagliano battle it out for the top QB spot. Gagliano expects to get the call as the starter and will have Leonard Harris and Mark Keel to catch the ball. Harris had 101 receptions last year. The number one running back is Todd Gerhart of Cal State-Fullerton. The merger with Denver gives the Bulls strength and depth in the offensive line that was missing last year. Former NFL New York Giant J.T. Turner is back at guard.
The merger with Denver improves the defense with the addition of defensive ends Bruce Thornton and Calvin Turner along with LB Craig Walls. Jacksonville boasts a strong secondary group with Nate Miller, Chester Gee, and Derrick Batiste as the featured stoppers.ORLANDO RENEGADES
Head Coach- Lee Corso
Despite finishing with just five wins, the Renegades drew great fan support in this central Florida city that has a lot to offer. Owner Donald Dizney brought in two fellows with charisma to run the team. Dizney hired Bugsy Engleberg away from the popular Tampa Bay Bandits, and Lee Corso to offer his coach the squad. Although the Renegades lost 13 games the fans embraced this team proving that Florida is football crazy.
John Reaves joins Orlando this year after three super seasons running Banditball for Tampa Bay and its coach Steve Spurrier. Reaves should get the starting role. Former Birmingham Stallion QB Reggie Collier directed Corso's offense last season, and will step up if Reaves falters or continues his history of injuries. Collier is a scrambler who gained 606 yards and rushed for 12 touchdowns last season. Collier threw 11 touchdown passes last year.
Orlando's place, though, may againbe in the basement this year with little depth in the backfield and the weakest defense in the league. Top rusher Curtis Bledsoe is now a member of the Baltimore Stars. One of the bright spots for the Renegades is steady receiver Joey Walters who had another good season with 58 catches, 784 yards, and 5 touchdowns.TAMPA BAY BANDITS
Head Coach- Steve Spurrier
Banditball makes the NFL rival Bucs a bit nervous as fans boo them and cheer the Bandits. The problem with the Bandits putting it all together has been injuries. This season the Bandits take on the USFL without offensive standouts John Reaves at QB and Gary Anderson rushing and catching the ball out of the backfield. Anderson moves to the left coast for the NFL Chargers.
The Bandits 10-8 record last year put them in fifth place in the USFL East. Jimmy Jordan (Florida State) takes over the QB role after the departure of John Reaves. Jordan passed the ball only 93 times last year, completing 54 for 601 yards and 3 touchdowns. Larry Brodsky (Miami-Florida) caught 69 passes last season. Marvin Harvey returns after catching 59 balls for 723 yards and 3 TDs.
Fred Nordgren is back to lead the Bandits defensive line. Nordgren sacked opposing QB's 10 times last year.
Even though Banditball has lost key players, Spurrier plans to keep the concept alive with more trick plays and a gambling wide open passing attack.