It’s the second week of February, which means football season is upon us. Well, sort of. The Alliance of American Football, the latest attempt at a non-NFL professional football league, will kick off its inaugural season this weekend, with games featuring eight teams located across the country set to be broadcast on CBS Sports, TNT and NFL Network. Although it has become easy to dismiss these spring football projects after repeated failures going back to the USFL of the 1980s, the Alliance of American Football, run by high-powered television executive Charlie Ebersol, has said all the right things and made plenty of strong partnerships.
But the league's initial draw relies less on its long-term vision then it does on scenes like Steve Spurrier coaching Austin Appleby for the Orlando Apollos in a collision of Florida football eras that might intrigue local Gators fans. Any college football fan will be able to turn on any AAF game and recognize at least a handful of notable college standouts who haven’t stuck in the NFL. The AAF has clearly honed in on regional college football interests in its roster construction in an attempt to get casual fans to latch onto new teams and unfamiliar rules.
Here’s a team-by-team guide of what college football fans should take interest in heading into the AAF’s first weekend of action.
The first thing you need to know about the Hotshots is that former Colorado, Washington and UCLA head man Rick Neuheisel is their head coach. Hugh Freeze was initially slotted in as offensive coordinator (his name is still on the website) before he was hired as the head coach at Liberty.
For college fans though, the big players are former West Coast standouts: ex-Oregon receiver Josh Huff and 2012 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton of Arizona State. And then there’s quarterback Trevor Knight, best remembered for his memorable breakout performance in Oklahoma’s win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Former uber-recruit Trenton Thompson of Georgia is also on the roster.
Remember the first time Georgia would have had a national title within reach if it could have just beaten Alabama? So does Aaron Murray, who is one of Atlanta’s three quarterbacks. He’ll be joined by Tennessee’s Matt Simms, who has not started a game since 2011. Michigan legend Denard Robinson and Iowa’s Akrum Wadley make up the Legends’ top rushing threats. Also in the fold is Korean-American kicking great Younghoe Koo, who starred at Georgia Southern and briefly played for the Chargers in 2017.
Also, Michael Vick is the offensive coordinator. Will Michael Vick lead Aaron Murray to a championship? This is a real question about a football team in Georgia that can be asked in 2019.
Where better to capitalize on whatever name recognition college players have left than Birmingham? The Iron, fittingly, have 16 players from Alabama and Auburn on their roster. The biggest name is former No. 3 overall pick Trent Richardson, who was last on an NFL roster in 2016. Chris Davis (yes, the Kick-Six Chris Davis) is trying to make a comeback after knee surgery. The three quarterbacks on the roster are 2014 Alabama starter Blake Sims, post-Jake Locker Washington starter Keith Price and Division II legend Nick Perez. At wide receiver, Louisiana Tech star Quinton Patton and Auburn return ace Quan Bray jump off the page.
Also, the Iron’s kicker is Nick Novak, who is inexplicably one of four Maryland alumni on this team.
Former LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, backed up by former Penn State starter Christian Hackenberg, will try to lead the Express to victory with a backfield headed by Vanderbilt great Zac Stacy. The Express are a hub for former SEC players not from Alabama. In addition to Mettenberger, LSU will be represented by running back Terrence Magee, offensive tackle Toby Weathersby, defensive tackle Greg Gilmore and former Giants punter Brad Wing.
It looks like former SMU (via Texas) and Carolina Panthers quarterback Garrett Gilbert will start, but the Florida connections are still strong on this squad apart from Spurrier and Appleby. Former Gator safety Will Hill is on the roster, as is FSU running back Ryan Green, who will battle Akeem Hunt (Purdue) and De'Veon Smith (Michigan), among others, for carries. Every FBS school in Florida has at least one representative on the Apollos’ roster.
Salt Lake Stallions
There are plenty of former Utah on the Stallions: Former Vikings running back Matt Asiata joins receivers Kaelin Clay and Dres Anderson, tight end Anthony Denham, O-linemen Jeremiah Poutasi and Salesi Uhatafe, linebackers Gionni Paul and Trevor Riley and defensive linemen Tenny Palepoi and Sealver Siliga. Salt Lake dipped into Nebraska’s alumni list as well, with former Huskers starting running back Terrell Newby, receivers De'Mornay Pierson-El and Kenny Bell and linebacker Josh Banderas also signed on.
San Antonio Commanders
Former Nebraska coach Mike Riley will oversee a large collection of players from Texas. Houston QB Greg Ward Jr. is on this team as a wide receiver, along with former Cougars teammate Kenneth Farrow II. At quarterback, West Texas A&M star Dustin Vaughan is expected to start against San Diego in Week 1. David Cobb (Minnesota) is set to start at running back.
San Diego Fleet
Eight years removed from his last NFL job, Mike Martz teams up with former Indiana and Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike DeBord to direct pro football’s return to San Diego. Martz will not be working with Josh Johnson, who signed with the team only to make the Redskins as a backup and ascend to starting duties late in 2018. Instead, Mike Bercovici (Arizona State), Phillip Nelson (East Carolina) and Alex Ross (Coastal Carolina are all competing for the starting quarterback job. The Fleet also have former San Diego State and Dallas Cowboys tight end Gavin Escobar, along with a player from nearby Asuza Pacific, running back Terrell Watson.