UFL Week 3 power rankings: Panthers make big jump; Stallions remain No. 1

The UFL’s onside kick alternative is working.

In fact, a team has overcome a double-digit deficit inside the final three minutes of a game for the second time in two weeks because of it. Following a touchdown in the fourth quarter of a game when the other team is trailing, the scoring team can opt to go for a fourth-and-12 scrimmage play from the minus 28-yard line to retain possession of the ball rather than attempting an onside kick.

The rule has made the last four minutes of a UFL game truly exciting in a sport where teams that hold the lead during that time routinely sit on the ball and run out the clock — and teams that are trailing need a series of unlikely events to occur for them to feel they can win a game that they’re behind by two scores late in the contest.

Just 5% of onside kicks are recovered in the NFL. A fourth-and-20 alternative was considered before ultimately being nixed by NFL rules makers this year. However, since the NFL has adopted the XFL’s rule for kickoffs, there’s hope that the NFL will see the success of the UFL’s onside kick alternative as an exciting pop at the end of regulation football games.

Meanwhile, UFL kickers are continuing to crush it.

Michigan Panthers kicker Jake Bates has become a breakout star with two made field goals of 62 yards or more through Week 3. He’s perfect (5 of 5) on the season, and the rest of the league’s place kickers are also performing very well.

Seven kickers have combined to make 39 of 43 (90.1%) field goals. What’s more, they went 18 for 18 through the first 11 games this season. DC Defenders kicker Matt McCrane has made three field goals of 50 yards or more with a long of 58, followed by the Memphis ShowboatsMatt Coghlin, who has made two field goals of 50 yards or more with a long of 57. 

Houston Roughnecks kicker JJ Molson has also made two field goals of 50 yards or more with a long of 55, while St. Louis Battlehawks kicker Andre Szmyt nailed a 54-yarder on Sunday and the Arlington RenegadesTaylor Russolino has a 52-yarder under his belt this season.

Following former Birmingham Stallions kicker Brandon Aubrey’s successful move from the USFL to the Dallas Cowboys, where he earned first-team All-Pro honors as a rookie without a college football kicking background, the UFL has become a kicking incubator for NFL teams looking to sign big, accurate legs.

Stallions head coach Skip Holtz’s and general manager Zach Potter’s ability to find players who fit their needs and develop them into playmakers with Birmingham is truly impressive — not unlike Scott Pioli and Bill Belichick in the heyday of the New England Patriots — and one of the reasons why their team continues to dominate professional spring league football.

That said, let’s get to our third edition of the 2024 UFL power rankings.

1. Birmingham Stallions (3-0)

The Stallions continued their march through spring football in search of their third consecutive league championship with a commanding 33-14 victory over the Memphis Showboats in their home-opener on Saturday. Former Nebraska QB Adrian Martinez became the first 300-yard passer in UFL history, completing 18 of 38 passes for 344 yards in the win. 

Meanwhile, the Stallions defense has become the best scoring defense in the league, allowing just 13.6 points per game through Week 3. Jon Chavis’ squad has recorded 17.0 sacks this season, including eight against the Showboats.

Holtz said he didn’t quite know if his offensive line was really bad, or if his defensive line was really good during practices and at camp. But after back-to-back games of seven sacks or more, he’s fairly confident that his defensive line is decent.

“I think our defensive line has a chance to be pretty good,” he said. “I think we can play even better than what we did.”

The Stallions have won their past 10 games (the UFL only plays 10 regular-season games) and have not lost since May 13, 2023. The Stallions also rank No. 1 in scoring margin at +39 points — a whopping 30 points ahead of No. 2 Michigan at +9.

2. Michigan Panthers (2-1)

The Panthers looked like a playoff contender in their 34-20 win over the Houston Roughnecks on Sunday. After allowing seven sacks and 12 QB hurries last week, the Panthers offensive line kept Brown product E.J. Perry upright, allowing zero sacks.

Perry rewarded his offensive line with a 16-of-19 passing performance for 208 yards with three total touchdowns to move the Panthers to 2-1 on the season. The 34 points scored by Michigan on Sunday is the most by any team this season.

“Very pleased with the offense overall,” head coach Mike Nolan said. “I thought E.J. did an outstanding job in the football game. I thought our rushing game was really on target.”

3. St. Louis Battlehawks (2-1)

The Battlehawks defense fought off a late surge from the San Antonio Brahmas in their 31-24 win at the Alamodome on Sunday. With less than two minutes remaining in the game, St. Louis was forced to punt.

The Brahmas scored 12 points in the final 48 seconds of regulation to win in Week 2. Against the Battlehawks, there would be no such late-game heroics. St. Louis, which was outgained in total yardage and passing yardage, ground out a win on the road to move atop the XFL conference standings.

“That’s the biggest thing with our league,” head coach Anthony Becht said. “You’ve got to finish and close the door when you get the opportunity to do that, and I’m glad our defense was able to do that.”

Quarterback A.J. McCarron completed 19 of 27 passes for 152 yards. Wideout Hakeem Butler caught six passes for 87 yards and a touchdown. After missing Week 2, running back Jacob Saylors made his presence known with a 19-yard rushing score in the fourth quarter that turned out to be the difference in the game.

4. San Antonio Brahmas (2-1)

The Brahmas succumbed to a dramatic comeback by the Battlehawks — their first loss of the year. QB Chase Garbers finished with just 158 passing yards — after throwing for 287 yards in Week 2 — against a stingy St. Louis defense.

“We have to quit getting into situations where we have to come from behind like that,” head coach Wade Phillips said. Still, Phillips took heart in having an opportunity to win in the final moments and credited his team for continuing to seek a victory until the game ended.

With the loss, the Brahmas fell to second place in the XFL conference via a tie-breaker with three teams.

5. DC Defenders (2-1)

The Defenders overcame a 10-point deficit with 2:08 left to play Saturday to defeat the Arlington Renegades, 29-28, and improve above .500. Though the offense generated just 259 yards with the bulk of those coming on QB Jordan Ta’amu’s arm — 11 of 24 for 188 yards and two touchdowns — the Defenders were 3 for 3 in the red zone on scoring opportunities.

Kicker Matt McCrane made three field goals, including a 49-yarder with four seconds left to earn Reggie Barlow’s club their second consecutive win. Up next, the Defenders will face the best team in spring football, the Stallions, in Week 4 (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app).

6. Arlington Renegades (0-3)

Despite generating 419 total yards, running 25 more offensive plays than the Defenders, a 290-yard passing performance from QB Luis Perez and converting 13 of 18 third downs — Bob Stoops’ squad couldn’t get it done and dropped to 0-3.

Adding insult to injury, two of Arlington’s three losses have come at home. However, the Renegades are still just two wins from the second and final playoff spot in the XFL conference.

Arlington, which boasts the league’s second-best scoring offense, needs its defense to come along. It has the UFL’s worst scoring defense, allowing 83 points through Week 3. For perspective, Birmingham leads the league in scoring with 80.

7. Memphis Showboats (1-2)

Stallions wideout Deon Cain accounted for more receiving yards (144) than Memphis QB Case Cookus threw (139) in Week 3 — and that’s not how Showboats head coach John DeFilippo drew up his offense.

By the third quarter of Saturday’s tilt, Filippo was having conversations with Cookus about needing to protect him. Memphis’ offensive line allowed eight sacks. Filippo eventually pulled Cookus and put in backup QB Troy Williams, who finished 11 of 19 for 100 yards.

The Showboats scored just two points in the second half. Their secondary averaged 18 yards per completion in the loss. After starting their season on a high note, the Showboats have now come up short in their past two games.

“It’s just not good enough,” DeFilippo said. “And it’s on all of us.”

8. Houston Roughnecks (0-3)

The Roughnecks, like the Renegades, are still searching for their first win of the season — and their first game without a blocked punt. That’s right, Houston is the only team in the league to have a punt blocked in all three games. 

In his first start for Houston, QB Reid Sinnett threw for 197 yards with a touchdown and an interception. 

The Houston rushing attack yielded just 57 yards on 20 rushes while the defense saw the levee break in the third quarter when the Panthers scored 22 points — the most by any team in a single quarter this year.

“We’ve got to stop the pre-snap penalties and mistakes on offense,” head coach CJ Johnson said. “We’ve got to get a little more out of our tight ends, and I didn’t think our defense came to play at all.”

The Roughnecks committed seven penalties for 43 yards and allowed 124 rushing yards on the ground, including 60 and two scores to Perry.

RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The Number One College Football Show.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on YouTube.

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