If Michael Scott was writing this article, he would start it off by saying something like: “Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘roughneck’ as having an uneven or irregular surface that is not smooth. Well, I think this team is irregular because they are in the XFL.”
The Houston Roughnecks were founded this past year and will open their inaugural season at home against Los Angeles Wildcats on FOX on Sunday, February 8th. If they win their first game, as less than a year-old franchise they will already have more primetime wins than Kirk Cousins. There are a lot of storylines in the XFL and even with the Roughnecks. I will dive into some here as a preview:
1. Head Coach June Jones Has Plenty of Coaching Experience
To my disappointment, June Jones is not related to the “Junie B. Jones” book series that I often read as a kid. Jones played for three different teams in college and eventually ended up at the Atlanta Falcons where he doubled Jameis Winston with a 1:2 TD to INT ratio which promptly got him cut after four seasons. He was an assistant coach at the University of Hawaii, then in the USFL and made his back to the Atlanta Falcons before taking over a Hawaii team that was on an 18-game losing streak. He righted the ship with consecutive winning seasons and a contract of over $800,000. He then signed a contract with SMU worth $2 million annually, going 1-11 and then 7-5. After going 5-7, he stepped down due to personal reasons, but is now in the XFL and ready to roll in what is his second head coaching stint in the Lone Star State. Throughout his coaching career, he has used the run and shoot on offense with one running back, four wide receivers and a wide receiver motion on every play.
2. No One Knows Who the Roughnecks’ Quarterback Will Be
The center of the Roughnecks’ training camp has been centered around the quarterback battle between former Michigan State Spartan and Oakland Raider Connor Cook and former Temple Owl P.J. Walker. Cook peaked in college, as he started three seasons at Michigan State – including in 2014, when he ranked 10th in the country in Adjusted Yards per Passing Attempt (which goes beyond the normal passing yards per attempt to factor in touchdowns and interceptions thrown) and in 2015, when he led his team to the College Football Playoff. Playoffs in general haven’t been kind to him, as against Alabama he only completed 48% of his passes and threw 2 interceptions, and in his sole NFL playoff game – replacing an injured Derek Carr – he had a completed percentage of 40% and threw 3 interceptions. P.J. Walker started all four years at Temple including his senior year in 2016, when he finished 25th in the entire nation for AY/A. With current Panthers head coach Matt Rhule leading the helm, Walker guided Temple to a 10-4 record. He graduated from Temple having cemented his legacy as one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in AAC history, as he finished his college career second on the conference’s all-time passing yards list. Possessing a decent combination of mobility and accuracy, Walker seems like the better fit for Coach Jones’ offense.
3. The Stud Wide Receivers
If XFL Fantasy Football is a thing, expect Sammie Coates and Kahlil Lewis to be league winners. Coates holds the honor of being the second-highest pick player in the NFL draft that is now in the XFL. He went 87th overall to the Pittsburgh Steelers and had 21 receptions for 435 yards in his second year. However (and if there are any young children reading this, please cover their eyes), his catch rate was only 42.9%. To provide some context on just how low that is, you should know that the 100th best pass catcher in the NFL had a catch rate of 64.8%. He is only 26 years old, stands at 6’1”, weighs 210 pounds with a 4.43 40 and is ready for a fresh start. Kahlil Lewis is much less athletic 5’10”, 190 pounds with a 4.69-second 40, but had three good years at Cincinnati in college:
Vegas has the Houston Roughnecks at +750 to win the XFL Championship which is fifth in the league. Their offense will be a lot of fun as Jones’ Hawaii teams passed 45 times a game. It’ll be exciting to see a city like Houston get behind a team that doesn’t cheat (*cough* Astros *cough*), doesn’t have their GM tweet about politics (*cough* Rockets *cough*) or doesn’t have their head coach yell at fans (*cough* Texans *cough*).