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1986 USFL Preview


Compliments of Dusty Sloan

This is a "preview" of the 1986 United States Football League season that would have happened had the league noted folded in late summer of 1986.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

LIBERTY DIVISIONINDEPENDENCE DIVISION
New Jersey GeneralsArizona Outlaws
Memphis ShowboatsJacksonville Bulls
Baltimore StarsOrlando Renegades
Birmingham StallionsTampa Bay Bandits

1986 USFL Championship Game: New Jersey over Arizona.

ARIZONA OUTLAWS

Head coach: Frank Kush.

Key acquisitions: CB Charles Armstead (San Antonio), DE Monte Bennett (Oakland), LB Howard Carson (Los Angeles), LB Kiki DeAyala (Houston), S Dwight Drane (Los Angeles) RB Shawn Faulkner (Oakland), RB Mel Gray (Los Angeles), DB Warren Hanna (Tampa Bay), WR Derek Holloway (Oakland), C Wayne Jones (Los Angeles), TE Mark Keel (Jacksonville), TE Darryl Mason (Birmingham), DE Kenny Neil (Portland), QB Rick Neuheisel (San Antonio), G Dan Rosado (Houston), T Lee Spivey (Portland), DE Mike Taliferro (Denver), WR Eric Truvillion (Tampa Bay), DB Troy West (Los Angeles).

Key losses: WR Greg Anderson (NFL), DE Ken Gillen (Tampa Bay), LB Vic Koenning (NFL), S Bruce Laird (not protected after ’85), DE Karl Lorch (not protected after ’85), S Kelvin Middleton (NFL), G Tom Thayer (NFL), DT Dave Tipton (Jacksonville), K Luis Zendejas (NFL).

Offense: QB Doug Williams would have been the Outlaws’ starter for the third year in a row, but would have had a much better backup/challenge from Neuheisel. Arizona would have boasted a crowded backfield with Reggie Brown, Mack Boatner, Mel Gray, Don Roberts and Scott Stamper all looking for carries. Wide receiver (Holloway, Troy Johnson, Mike Shumann, Truvillion and Al Williams) and tight end (Keel, Mason, Ken O’Neal, Ron Wheeler and Brian Williams) both would have had plenty of targets for Doug Williams to throw to. The offensive line would have featured newcomers Rosado and Spivey to go with guard Alvin Powell, tackle John Stadnik and centers Mike Katolin and Jones.

Defense: The Outlaws’ pass rush lost Tipton, Lorch and Gillen, but picked up Bennett, Neil and Taliferro. DeAyala and Carson were ready to join Jimmie Carter to make up one of the better linebacker corps in the USFL. The secondary would have seen quite a turnover, with Laird and Middleton out and most likely Selwyn Drain, Drane and/or West in at safety. Cornerback would have been loaded, with Armstead, Hanna, Clyde Johnson, David Martin and John Warren all in the mix.

Special teams: Case deBruijn was back to be the Outlaws’ punter, while it looked like Arizona would replace one Zendejas (Luis) with another (Joaquin). The return game would have gotten a boost with both Faulkner and Gray on kickoff returns, and Faulkner and Martin on punt returns.

Bottom line: Arizona’s offense most likely would have been second to just New Jersey in potency, and the defense still had enough parts to compliment the "O." The Outlaws should have been the preseason favorite to win the Independence Division.

BALTIMORE STARS

Head coach: none (Ted Marchibroda was the leading candidate before league folded).

Key acquisitions: RB Curtis Bledsoe (Orlando), WR Clarence Collins (New Jersey), P Bob Grupp (Memphis), LB Kevin Murphy (Birmingham).

Key losses: DE Don Fielder (NFL), WR Herbert Harris (NFL), P Sean Landeta (NFL), CB Garcia Lane (NFL), S Mark McCants (Jacksonville), LB Larry McCoy (Orlando), C Bart Oates (NFL), NT Dave Opfar (Tampa Bay).

Offense: The Stars’ backfield (QB Chuck Fusina and RB Kelvin Bryant) would have been intact, and the running game also would have been bolstered by backups Allen Harvin and Bledsoe. The wide receiver corps (Scott Fitzkee, Willie Collier, James Caver and Vic Harrison) also lost little, and added ex-General Collins to become Baltimore’s deep threat. TEs Ken Dunek and Steve Folsom rounded out Fusina’s many weapons to choose from. The Stars would have had a hard time replacing Oates at center, but they still had Chuck Commiskey and Bill Dugan at guard and Joe Conwell and Irv Eatman at tackle.

Defense: Baltimore’s defensive line wouldn’t have had Fielder or Opfar, but it still had William Fuller, John Walker and Buddy Moor at the ends and Pete Kugler on the nose. The Stars’ steady linebacker corps lost McCoy, but gained Murphy, and still had George Cooper, George Jamison, Mike Johnson and Sam Mills. The secondary was without Lane and McCants, but most likely wouldn’t have missed a beat with Bill Hardee, Jonathan Sutton and R.L. Harris at the corners and Mike Lush, Scott Woerner and Antonio Gibson at the safety spots.

Special teams: The lone holdover in the kicking game would have been K David Trout, and the Stars would have had to break in a new punter in ex-Showboat Grupp. Baltimore would have missed Lane in the punt return game and McCants on kickoff returns, and didn’t seem to have adequate replacements for either.

Bottom line: The Stars had many of their parts from two straight USFL titles back for another run, but not having a head coach in place weeks before the season opener would have hindered them to the point where a slow start most likely couldn’t have been overcome. Still, with five out of eight teams making the playoffs, a fourth straight postseason berth seemed likely.

BIRMINGHAM STALLIONS

Head coach: Rollie Dotsch.

Key acquisitions: LB Stan Blinka (Denver), CB Peter Raeford (San Antonio), DT Bennie Smith (San Antonio).

Key losses: CB Chuck Clanton (NFL), RB Joe Cribbs (NFL), TE Darryl Mason (Arizona), K Danny Miller (NFL), LB Kevin Murphy (Baltimore), P Bob Parsons (not protected after ’85), LB Bill Roe (Memphis), DT Doug Smith (NFL), WR Jim Smith (NFL), CB Mickey Sutton (NFL).

Offense: While the Stallions had QB Cliff Stoudt piloting the offense for the third year in a row, the running game would have struggled since Cribbs wasn’t replaced. In addition, with the loss of Jim Smith, the wide receiver corps was thin beyond Joey Jones and Ken Toler. And, without Mason, the triumvirate of Jim Brown, Robin Earl and Jay Repko would have had to combine for more than the 12 catches it reeled in in 1985. The good news was the offensive line, featuring guards Buddy Aydelette, Pat Saindon and Mike Turner, centers Mark Battaglia and Joe Bock and tackles Pat Phenix, Phil McKinnely and Franky Smith, was intact.

Defense: The line would have missed Doug Smith, but added Bennie Smith and still had tackles Jackie Cline and Malcolm Turner and end Ronnie Padgett. Birmingham’s top three pass rushers in 1985 were linebackers, and, even without Roe, Herb Spencer and Ken Kelley were back, as was Thomas Boyd. The secondary had to fill a huge hole with the loss of Clanton, but Dennis Woodberry, David Evans and Raeford would have given the Stallions solid corners. Available safeties included David Dumars and Ted Walton.

Special teams: With both Miller and Parsons gone, the Stallions were looking to replace them with inexperienced youngsters. Thad McFadden was back to be the primary punt returner, and McFadden and Paul Ott Carruth were back to return kicks.

Bottom line: With a lack of a known running game or depth in the passing game, big losses on defense and question marks in the kicking game, it would have been hard for the Stallions to be anywhere but last in the Liberty Division.

JACKSONVILLE BULLS

Head coach: Mouse Davis.

Key acquisitions: LB Earnest Adams (Portland), S Ernie Carswell (Denver), DE Rayford Cooks (Houston), T Greg Feasel (Denver), RB Todd Gerhart (Denver), WR Leonard Harris (Denver), S Darryl Hemphill (Denver), S Mark McCants (Baltimore), LB Mike McKibben (Denver), DT Doug Mikolas (Denver), CB Nate Miller (Denver), DT Tim Moore (Oakland), LB John Nevens (Denver), DT Pat Ogrin (Denver), DE Bruce Thornton (Denver), DT Dave Tipton (Arizona), DE Calvin Turner (Denver), LB Craig Walls (Denver).

Key losses: WR Alton Alexis (NFL), DE Joe Costello (NFL), LB Thomas Dinkel (NFL), T Bob Gruber (Memphis), CB Mark Harper (NFL), S Van Jakes (NFL), TE Mark Keel (Arizona), WR Perry Kemp (Memphis), RB Larry Mason (CFL), DE Keith Millard (NFL), DT Bob Nelson (NFL), RB Mike Rozier (NFL), QB Brian Sipe (retired), P Larry Swider (Tampa Bay),

Offense: QB Ed Luther would have been in his first season in the "Run ‘N’ Shoot," and, with the exception of Leonard Harris, he wouldn’t have had many weapons to work with. And, what little running game the Bulls would have had would have come from Todd Gerhart, a backup in Denver. With Feasel coming over in the merger, the Bulls’ line would have been solid (with C Jay Pennison, T A.V. Richards and G J.T. Turner).

Defense: While Jacksonville’s offense would have struggled at the start due to a number of reasons, its defense would have kept it in a lot of games. The Bulls lost their top three pass rushers in 1985 and gained the Denver Gold’s top four pass rushers (Thornton, Calvin Turner, Walls and Mikolas). Add Tipton, and the Bulls’ defensive front seven had the potential to be one of the best in the league. Adding to that front seven were LBs Adams, Terry Beeson, Vaughan Johnson, McKibben and Nevens. In the secondary, the loss of Harper and Jakes was offset by all the Denver talent brought on board. The corners were Derrick Batiste, Nate Miller and Adrian Simpson, and the safeties were Carswell, Donald Dykes, Chester Gee, Hemphill, Joe Johnson and McCants.

Special teams: K Brian Franco returned for a third season, and might have had to play a dual role and be the Bulls’ punter, something he did part-time in 1984. The only experienced punt returner Jacksonville had was Harris, and that was only in part-time duty. Matthews and McCants would have been the Bulls’ kickoff returners.

Bottom line: Even with an adjustment period for the offense and a potentially shaky special teams, the defensive dominance and talent to spare would have been enough for a playoff run.

MEMPHIS SHOWBOATS

Head coach: Pepper Rodgers.

Key acquisitions: DT Jerald Baylis (Portland), LB Ray Bentley (Oakland), TE Sam Bowers (New Jersey), T Bob Gruber (Jacksonville), WR Perry Kemp (Jacksonville), CB Vito McKeever (Oakland), S Jim Bob Morris (San Antonio), LB Bill Roe (Birmingham), K Roger Ruzek (New Jersey), LB David Shaw (Oakland), DT Ron Simmons (Tampa Bay), LB Angelo Snipes (Oakland).

Key losses: S Mossy Cade (NFL), DE Sam Clancy (NFL), CB Leonard Coleman (NFL), LB John Corker (NFL), K Alan Duncan (not protected after ’85), P Bob Grupp (Baltimore), G David Huffman (NFL), CB/S Ron Osborne (not protected after ’85), T Luis Sharpe (NFL), TE Gary Shirk (not protected after ’85), RB Tim Spencer (NFL), DE Reggie White (NFL).

Offense: The top storyline would have been whether Walter Lewis or Mike Kelley would have been Memphis’ starting quarterback. Even without Spencer, the Showboats could have had a serviceable running game with Leonard Williams, Harry Sydney, Ricky Porter and Anthony Parker, and Lewis could help on draws and scrambles. Whoever the QB would have been, they would have had many targets in Derrick Crawford, Kemp and Greg Moser at wide receiver and Bowers, Hadnot and Mark Raugh at tight end. The line saw a key addition in tackle Bob Gruber, and returned center Larry Rubens and guard Ken Smith.

Defense: The line was bolstered by getting Baylis, Merrell and Simmons at tackle, and even though White and Clancy were gone, ends Calvin Clark and Jay Hayes were solid replacements. Bentley, Shaw, Roe and Snipes would have combined with holdovers Will Cokeley, Mike Grant, Steve Hammond and Carlton Rose to give the Showboats plenty of depth. Don Bessillieu, Barney Bussey and Morris were a solid trio of safeties, and McKeever provided Memphis with a shutdown corner.

Special teams: Statistically, Ruzek was a minimal improvement over Duncan, and Jim Miller returned to be the punter. Memphis would have boasted one of the top return units thanks to Crawford, Henry Williams and Kemp.

Bottom line: With the Generals in the Liberty Division, it would have been tough for Memphis to claim a division title. However, with two starting quarterbacks, plenty of targets for them, a solid defense and field-changing special teams, the Showboats could have given New Jersey all it could handle.

NEW JERSEY GENERALS

Head coach: Jack Pardee.

Key acquisitions: C Carl Allen (Houston), S Luther Bradley (Houston), DE Pete Catan (Houston), WR Vince Courville (Houston), CB Dennis DeVaughn (Houston), QB Todd Dillon (Houston), DT Tony Fitzpatrick (Houston), RB Sam Harrell (Houston), LB Andy Hawkins (Houston), LB Mike Hawkins (Houston), DT Tony Holyfield (Houston), DT Van Hughes (Houston), WR Richard Johnson (Houston), T Rick Kehr (Houston), C Billy Kidd (Houston), CB Will Lewis (Houston), WR Scott McGhee (Houston), WR Gerald McNeil (Houston), CB Mike Mitchell (Houston), LB Reggie Oliver (San Antonio), T Chris Riehm (Houston), T Tommy Robison (Houston), S Durwood Roquemore (Houston), WR Ricky Sanders (Houston), DT Hosea Taylor (Houston), WR Lonnie Turner (Denver), WR Clarence Verdin (Houston).

Key losses: TE Sam Bowers (Memphis), DE Jim Byrne (NFL), FB Maurice Carthon (NFL), WR Clarence Collins (Baltimore), S Donnell Daniel (not protected after ’85), DE James Lockette (NFL), LB John Miller (not protected after ’85), P Rick Partridge (NFL), K Roger Ruzek (Memphis).

Offense: It would have been fascinating to see how RB Herschel Walker would have been melded into the "Run ‘N’ Shoot" offense. Thinking about Walker and the passing group of Kelly to WRs Johnson, Verdin, McNeil, Sanders, McGhee, Courville and Turner would have made any USFL defensive coordinator cringe. Also, due to the merger with Houston, the Generals had an embarrassment of riches (centers Allen, Kent Hull and Kidd and tackles Kehr, Don Maggs, Riehm and Robison) along the offensive line.

Defense: The Generals more than overcame the losses of Lockette and Byrne by acquiring Catan, Fitzpatrick, Holyfield, Hughes and Taylor. Add holdovers Freddie Gilbert and Frank Mattiace, and New Jersey would have had plenty of pass rush. The Generals also had plenty of linebackers (Andy Hawkins, Mike Hawkins, John Joyce, Bobby Leopold and Mike Weddington) in order to field a strong front seven. And, if that wasn’t enough, Jersey had the likes of DeVaughn, Jerry Holmes, Ken Johnson, Kerry Justin, Lewis and Mitchell at the corners and Bradley, Greggory Johnson, John Preston and Roquemore at the safety spots.

Special teams: Without an USFL-experienced kicker or punter, the Generals most likely would have gone with NFL castoff Russell Erxleben to do both jobs. With McNeil returning punts and Verdin, Courville and Turner returning kicks, the Generals would have been dangerous there, too.

Bottom line: It is tough to imagine the Generals losing a single game with the talent they had. They clearly were the preseason favorites to win the 1986 USFL championship.

ORLANDO RENEGADES

Head coach: Lee Corso.

Key acquisitions: WR Jerry Gordon (San Antonio), WR Lonnie Harris (Denver), LB Larry McCoy (Baltimore), CB Darrell Pattillo (Los Angeles), QB John Reaves (Tampa Bay), CB Bruce Vaughan (Tampa Bay), NT Ruben Vaughan (Oakland), DT Eddie Weaver (Los Angeles), RB Ricky Williams (Tampa Bay).

Key losses: RB Curtis Bledsoe (Baltimore),K Jeff Brockhaus (NFL), QB Reggie Collier (NFL), DT Joe Ehrmann (not protected after ’85), S Mike Guess (not protected after ’85), TE Bob Niziolek (not protected after ’85).

Offense: While the loss of Collier subtracted a dynamic player from Orlando’s offense, the Renegades were able to replace him with a gunslinger in Reaves. Collier’s loss, along with that of Bledsoe, took away the majority of Orlando’s ground game from 1985. The two players who most likely would have been asked to fill Bledsoe’s spot were ex-Bandit Williams and fullback Rickey Claitt, and neither one had much feature-back experience. Providing targets for Reaves were WRs Jackie Flowers, Gordon, Jeff Smith and Joey Walters. TEs Don Echols, Jeff Spek and Robert Young needed to fill the loss of Niziolek. Guard James Farr would have led a make-shift line.

Defense: Both Ruben Vaughan and Weaver would have added to a Renegades pass rush which didn’t have much punch in 1985. They, along with DEs Scott Hutchinson and Kevin Kellin, would have given Orlando a solid front four. At linebacker, McCoy joined Kelvin Atkins, Ron Freeman, Ed Jackson and Fred McCallister for a solid group. Pattillo and Bruce Vaughan gave Orlando a couple of ball hawks at the corners, along with holdover interception machine Jeff George. Victor Jackson led a group of safeties that included Lupe Sanchez.

Special teams: P Greg Cater returned to lead the special teams, but Orlando did not have an experienced kicker. The Renegades had plenty of choices both at punt returns (Harris, Victor Jackson, Bruce Vaughan) and kickoff returns (Harris, Jerry Parrish and Williams).

Bottom line: It’s possible the Renegades could have had their best record in franchise history, and still not make the playoffs. But Reaves and a much-improved defense would have given Orlando a puncher’s chance.

TAMPA BAY BANDITS

Head coach: Steve Spurrier.

Key acquisitions: QB Fred Besana (Oakland), LB Putt Choate (San Antonio), DE Cleveland Crosby (Houston), S Calvin Eason (Houston), DE Ken Gillen (Arizona), DT Dave Opfar (Baltimore), LB Gary Plummer (Oakland), WR Gill Stegall (Denver), P Larry Swider (Jacksonville), RB Kirby Warren (Los Angeles).

Key losses: RB Gary Anderson (NFL), DE Mike Butler (NFL), S Bret Clark (NFL), T Dan Fike (NFL), CB Warren Hanna (Arizona), LB James Harrell (NFL), WR Spencer Jackson (CFL), DT Mike Morgan (not protected after ’85), QB John Reaves (Orlando), DT Ron Simmons (Memphis), WR Eric Truvillion (Arizona), DE Brett Williams (CFL), RB Ricky Williams (Orlando).

Offense: With Reaves’ departure, the Bandits either would have gone with long-time Bandit Jimmy Jordan or ex-Invader Fred Besana at quarterback, and neither one was a full-time starter in 1985. And, without Anderson, the ground game would have been handled by either Greg Boone or ex-Express Kirby Warren. Without Truvillion and Jackson, the receiving in "Banditball" would have had to be done by WRs Stegall, Larry Brodsky and Willie Gillespie and TE Marvin Harvey. The line would have been led by center Chris Foote, guard Nate Newton and tackle Reggie Smith.

Defense: Without Morgan, Simmons and Brett Williams, Tampa Bay’s defensive line would have had to be played by Crosby, Gillen, Opfar, Mike Clark, Fred Nordgren and James Ramey. Plummer would have been a key addition to a group of linebackers which included Choate, Keith Clark, Alonzo Johnson and Kelly Kirchbaum. In the secondary, Dwayne Anderson, Alvin Bailey and Mike Thurman would have led the way at cornerback and Marcus Quinn and Calvin Eason were the safeties.

Special teams: With the addition of P Larry Swider, Zenon Andrusyshyn most likely would have been asked to stick to just kicking. Several players would have been in line for kickoff return duty, and the same would have been true for punt returns.

Bottom line: With a lack of a No. 1 quarterback and so many key players leaving the team, "Banditball" might have hit rock bottom in 1986.