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Important Storylines in a Crucial St. Louis Battlehawks vs. Birmingham Stallions Matchup

Saturday afternoon’s matchup between the St. Louis Battlehawks and Birmingham Stallions is taking place in Alabama but has storylines made for Hollywood. The two teams are the two favorites to win the league championship in June, and the two quarterbacks are the two favorites to win the league MVP award. Here are the three biggest storylines to follow in the Week 7 game.

A.J. McCarron is Coming Home

When NFL veteran quarterback A.J. McCarron announced his plans to sign with the St. Louis Battlehawks in November of 2022, the XFL and the Battlehawks gained much more respect and attention.

The longtime Cincinnati Bengal and three-time champion with the Alabama Crimson Tide instantly became the biggest name in the league, and he would be playing for the team with the most passionate fanbase. He won the league MVP award in the 2023 season and is currently the favorite to do so again this year.

Saturday will be McCarron’s first time playing in Alabama since his college career. Anthony Becht, head coach of the Battlehawks, is expecting Crimson Tide fans to come out to support their former quarterback.

“We’re asking them to buy as many tickets as possible and get as much blue in the stands as we can,” Becht said in a conference call this week. “… We’re trying to amp it up and get as many AJ McCarron Alabama fans as we can on the other side of the stadium.”

Every sports league thrives on the marketability of its stars. For most of both the XFL’s and USFL’s existence, their stars have been the recognizable names of above-average NFL players who fell from grace. 

But McCaronn is one of the few who has emerged as a star for his work in the UFL. He was well-known before, but his elite play has drawn attention to the league. An impressive performance from McCarron on Saturday would increase both his and the league’s popularity.

Championship Preview?

Viewers who come for the McCarron storyline will stay for the excellent football. The Stallions and the Battlehawks have been playing at a different level than the other six teams in the league. 

The Stallions, two-time defending champions of the USFL, are led by an electric offense. Three Birmingham players are in the top six in the league for rushing yards. The highest one is quarterback Adrian Martinez, one of the best dual threats in the league— he’s currently fourth in the league for passing yards (971) and second in rushing (327). Last week against Houston, Martinez threw for 369 yards and four touchdowns for a 186.7 QBR. 

The Stallions, coached by Skip Holtz, rank second in total points scored. Only behind, of course, the Battlehawks. McCarron’s wealth of experience from his time in the NFL makes him arguably the best quarterback in the league. But he also has a stacked wide receiver room headlined by Hakeem Butler, Jahcour Pearson, Darrius Shepherd, and Marcell Ateman. Butler, a former fourth-round NFL draft pick, has been on a tear, going for 281 yards and four touchdowns in the past two weeks.

If this game turns out to be the shootout it projects to be on paper, it will come down to the stellar defenses on both sides of the ball. Both teams are in the top two for the lowest amount of points allowed, with Birmingham allowing 89 and St. Louis 103. 

The Stallions and Battlehawks are tied for a league-leading six interceptions. Birmingham's defense has created a more effective pass-rushing attack than St. Louis', with 21 sacks compared to St. Louis’ 11.

If the classic saying about defense winning championships holds true, this will be an important test for both defenses. Both teams feature explosive offenses that can quickly put points on the board, but just one additional stop or turnover from one's defense might be the deciding factor.

How Much Does America Care About the UFL?

There’s a sketch in Tim Robinson’s sketch-comedy show “I Think You Should Leave” of a parody of “The Bachelorette” reality dating show. The main character is kicked off by the woman looking for love because he is only there for this epic zipline on the set and not to actually find love.

This weekend, the UFL will find out if their viewers are just there for the zipline or are interested in a serious relationship as a fan. The UFL averaged 914,250 viewers over the season's first six weeks, better than its spring league predecessors. But ratings for Saturday’s matchup in Birmingham should indicate whether or not viewers are tuning in because of a craving for any football or if they care about the storylines and stars in the league.

The average viewership is nothing to snuff at for the UFL in its first season. But if there is a clear spike in viewership for a crucial late-season game between the league’s two best teams, it would likely mean the league has built a sustainable fanbase.

The Stallions are a four-point favorite via DraftKings in this captivating matchup. The perfect script for the league would see the two meet again in June in St. Louis for the league championship game.

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