The UFL made the very conscience decision to pit the Birmingham Stallions against the Arlington Renegades to kick off the 2024 season, in what is being billed as a Battle of the Champions. As we all know Arlington pulled off a fairly unlikely victory in 2023, while the Stallions claimed their second USFL title. Granted these teams look very different than they did last season when they completed these championship runs, there was no other way this 2024 season could begin, this game needed to happen.

So who are the Renegades of 2024? Back is Head Coach Bob Stoops, and most of his staff has stayed the same. He also returns the player that finished the season as his starting quarterback leading them to a championship victory in Luis Perez. While the Renegades brought in competition with Lindsey Scott, and Holton Ahlers neither could supplant the veteran, and Perez is expected to be the guy for most of if not all of this season.

On the flip side the Stallions are still led by Skip Holtz, and have many familiar faces on their roster as well. There will be some key changes with a new Co-Offensive Coordinator, and Quarterback. Alex McGough is still in the NFL, and Matt Corral looks to take over with J’mar Smith as the QB3. Cj Marable, Deon Cain, Jace Sternberger, and more will be leaned on heavily once again in 2024 keeping the core of this championship squad together.

All-Star Rosters

Looking back at 2023, each and every team’s roster had a hole you could point to. Depending on the team some of these holes were inconsequential, others led to the downfall of their entire team. Heading into 2024, these flaws are much less obvious given the contraction of the league, but there are still a few on the Arlington roster that can be exploited in this game.

Key Game Details 

This game will be broadcast by Fox at 1:00 pm Eastern Time. The Stallions are the away team, and this game is set to be played at Choctaw Stadium. The decade-old stadium seats 25,000 fans for football, and it appears to be a decent but not spectacular crowd so far if we are going by Ticketmaster’s map. If you’re in Texas, there’s still time to grab your tickets and head to the game. 

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Curt Menefee and Joel Klatt two of the best in the business will be in the booth for this game, while Brock Huard will work the sidelines. There is also a Spanish broadcast on Fox Deportes led by Rondolfo Landeras, Jaime Motta, and Jorge Carlos Mercader. 

Injury Report/Inactives 

DeMarquis Gates did not practice this week and will not participate in week one’s game. Lorenzo Burns and Daniel Isom both showed up on the injury report but were full participants in practice all week long. They are expected to be available to play. 

The Stallions have deactivated the following players:

QB J’Mar Smith

RB Larry Rountree III

T Darius Harper

WR/DB Isaiah Zuber

DB Madre Harper

DB Nevelle Clarke 

LB DeMarquis Gates

DL Jaylen Twyman 

Start of the Matt Corral Era 

Matt Corral will officially be the day-one starter for the Birmingham Stallions in 2024. As I’ve said, before, this does not necessarily mean, he will be the only quarterback to see playing time for Birmingham. Adrian Martinez is a much different quarterback than Corral, he is also the type of player that brings rare athleticism to the position. He could see time in certain packages through the game.

Adrian Martinez is the QB2, and this likely came in part due to his athletic ability that could at times provide an added dimension to this offense. Keep in mind Phillip Montgomery once oversaw the college career of RGIII. He knows how dangerous 4.4 speed at the quarterback position can be. 

I am hoping to see some form of a two-QB system that allows Martinez to get playing time early. He is currently the least experienced player in the position for the Stallions. If the Stallions can keep the Renegades defense on its toes they should have the advantage offensively over Arlington. 

Keys to Victory

Let’s Talk About Luis Perez

Luis Perez is a very steady, and confident quarterback. He is known for picking up playbooks quickly, and coming in ready to perform when called upon no matter what the situation may be. He is however physically limited in certain areas, which handicaps his game to an extent. This is made more evident by the fact that he has rarely been a team’s first choice…even in spring football.

He has graced the roster of the Birmingham Iron, TSL Jousters, L.A. Wildcats, New York Guardians, New Jersey Generals, Vegas Vipers, and Arlington Renegades during his five-season spring football career. During that time no starting job was ever handed to him. This is another telltale sign of his physical limitations. Perez is not the strongest quarterback, or the fastest quarterback. He isn’t going to wow anyone with his physical prowess, and that’s exactly why he has been typecast as a backup several times.

His performance with the Birmingham Iron didn’t help his case much, as he didn’t seem to push the ball downfield, had some issues with decision-making finished with more interceptions than touchdowns, and barely completed over 50% of his passes on the year. It was his play with the XFL in 2020 that began to change the narrative for Perez.

Since then he has only proven more doubters wrong in his ability to find success, but even then his limitations with arm strength, and mobility have been well documented at this point. There is a formula to beating Perez and it’s fairly simple, the Stallions need to apply pressure early and often while disguising varying coverages so Perez can not get comfortable in the pocket. Perez has been sacked 40 times not counting his time in the TSL. The Stallions need to ensure that number climbs in week 1 of the UFL season.

Carlos Davis is a Key to Victory 

it may come as a surprise for some to hear that this might turn into a defensive battle. I don’t expect this to be a low-scoring game, but I do expect the winner to be buoyed by a great defensive performance. With that in mind, this could be a defining game for Carlos Davis’s 2024 season. 

The run-stuffing nose tackle will be leaned on heavily to eat up blocks, create one-on-one matchups for the rest of the defensive line, and keep the linebackers clean to make the big plays. His performance may never show up on a stat sheet, but there will be indicators of how well he did after this game is over. Arlington’s offense lives and dies by the run if they are able to hold the Renegades under 100 yards rushing they should win this game.

Last season the Renegades had five players run the ball at least 14 times, and had another seven players add at least one carry. The team as a whole ran 245 times to 194 passing attempts. Some of this was due to necessity given the below-average quarterback play, but some of it was by design. The Renegades had brought in three different backs that weighed over 210 pounds…they knew they wanted to pound teams into submission and then use faster players to mix in that speed element. 

This season should be no different as they “run it back” with DeVeon Smith and Leddie Brown. If the Renegades don’t get better play from their offensive line this season these two tanks could get stuck in the mud early and often. 

Contain Sal Cannella

Make no mistake, Sal Cannella should be treated as the number one target for Luis Perez to kick off this season. Cannella is much like a receiver, playing tight end, who can utilize the mismatches that come when he is matched up one-on-one with a linebacker. If it was me, and I was John Chavis, this would be the coming out party for AJ Thomas the strong safety. he feels like the best option to cover Cannella if you intend to go one-on-one with him.

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I would line Thomas up in the box almost as a third linebacker, and use him to man up on Cannella with Jojo Tillery over the top just in case. Utilizing a hybrid 4-3/Base Nickel defense with Thomas your “big nickel”. This is also a much better option as a base defense against a run-heavy team than the traditional nickel defense. 

Offensively

On offense, the Stallions need to stick to their guns and control the tempo of the game. Run the ball early and often mixing in both backs and Martinez. Use the run game to set up the pass, and get the linebackers running downhill on every play. 

This will open up play action, and the screen game both of which the Renegades were susceptible to last season. If the Stallions can manage all of this, it’s going to be a long day for Renegades fans, and players alike. 

Betting Odds

DraftKings set their betting odds at -3.5 for the Stallions. This means they have the two-time defending champion Stallions winning by a little more than a field goal over the Renegades who produced a 4-6 record last season. as we discussed before, these teams are much different following the merger, but the Stallions still look like they should be a seven-point favorite or better in this game.

The Over/Under is set at 42. 

If I were a betting man I would take the Stallions to cover, and the over. 

Prediction

Stallions win 28-16 

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Sam Just

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