Game Preview: Memphis Showboats at Houston Roughnecks, Sunday March 31, 2024

  • Memphis Showboats at Houston Roughnecks
  • Sunday March 31, at 2:00 p.m. Central
  • Rice Stadium, Houston, TX
  • Broadcaster: ESPN
  • Announcers: Lowell Galindo (Play-by-play), Tom Luginbill (Analyst), Kayla Burton (Field Reporter), and Harry Douglas (Field analyst).
  • Odds: Memphis -1.5, O/U 41.5 (DraftKings)

This game will mark the first meeting between the Houston Roughnecks and the Memphis Showboats in UFL history. This also marks the third time John DeFilippo and Curtis Johnson square off against each other as head coaches, having faced each other twice during the 2023 USFL season with DiFilippo and his New Orleans Breakers coming out on top each time.

The Memphis Showboats and Houston Roughnecks will look for an early edge in the USFL Conference standings. This matchup is the only intra-conference matchup in the USFL Conference in Week One, so the winner will have early dibs on first place in the conference standings.

This game is scheduled to take place in venerable Rice Stadium, which has served as the home field for the Rice Owls since it opened in 1950. The Houston Oilers played their home games on campus from 1966-68, and six years later the stadium held Super Bowl VIII between the Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings, becoming one of only four on-campus venues to host the NFL’s championship game.

What should we look for?

In 2023, the USFL Memphis Showboats season was a bit of a roller coaster. The Showboats opened with three consecutive losses to Philadelphia, Birmingham and Houston. But a 29-10 win at Michigan sparked a five-game winning streak, including a 22-0 shutout of the Pittsburgh Maulers. Memphis headed into the home stretch of the season with a 5-3 mark and an opportunity to make the playoffs. But the Showboats finished with a 31-3 loss to DeFilippo’s New Orleans Breakers and a 27-20 defeat at the hands of the eventual USFL Champion Birmingham Stallions.

Prior to the 2024 UFL season, John DeFilippo was named head coach of the Memphis Showboats. DeFilippo has extensive NFL coaching experience, working for eight different NFL teams over 15 seasons. He has served as offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns, Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Memphis offense has been completely revamped heading into the 2024 season, featuring an entirely new set of quarterbacks and running backs. One returning piece on the offensive side of the ball is wide receiver Vinny Papale, who led the team in receiving yards last season and earned All-USFL recognition as a special teams player.

All three of the Showboats quarterbacks have starting experience in the USFL. Announced starter Case Cookus was a two-year starter for the Philadelphia Stars. Last season, Josh Love started nine games for the Michigan Panthers and Troy Williams started eight games for the Pittsburgh Maulers. No other UFL team can boast that amount of USFL/XFL starting experience among its top three quarterbacks.

On defense, the Showboats are solid in the middle with John Atkins, P.J. Hall and Daylon Mack anchoring the line. Former New Orleans Breakers Vontae Diggs was brought in to attack from the edge. In the secondary, defensive backs Jarey Elder had fifty tackles and two interceptions for the 2023 New Orleans Breakers, and Christian McFarland had 55 tackles for the 2023 Birmingham Stallions.

On special teams, head coach John Filippo brought in kicker Matt Coghlin and punter Matt White from the New Orleans Breakers. White hit on 18 field goals on 19 attempts in 2023.

The Houston Roughnecks are led by former Gamblers head coach Curtis “CJ” Johnson. Johnson brings 40 years of coaching experience, including four as head coach at Tulane and 33 seasons in all as an assistant coach in the NFL, college and high school.

The Roughnecks plan to start Jarrett Guarantano as quarterback. Guarantano began his collegiate career at the University of Tennessee from 2016-2020, where he started 31 games and joined Peyton Manning and Tyler Bray as the only Vols to throw for 400 yards in a game before transferring to Washington State in 2021 for his fifth year of eligibility. He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Arizona Cardinals in 2022, and spent time on the Denver Broncos practice squad in 2022.

Even with Guarantano being declared starter, coach Johnson has hinted we may see backups Reid Sinnett or Nolan Henderson for some plays.

Running back Mark Johnson suffered a knee injury in training camp and may not dress for this game. Coach Johnson hinted Thompson was practicing, but official injury reports indicate otherwise. This is a shame for the Roughnecks as Thompson scored 14 rushing touchdowns last year and was second in the USFL in yardage. The Roughnecks will have to turn to T.J. Pledger and Tiyon Evans for their ground game.

As for receivers, Isiah Hennie and Justin Hall were two of the top receivers in the USFL last year, but they lacked the big play ability.  Cyril Grayson, Anthony Ratliff-Williams, and Braedon Bowman round out the Roughnecks receiver corps.

On defense, Houston added 2022 USFL sack leader Chris Odom as well as Adam Rodriguez, who compiled 15 sacks over two seasons. Carlo Kemp will add pressure off the edge, while Glen Logan and Olive Sagapolu will clog up the middle. LB Reuben Foster has received praise from the head coach during training camp and he will be looked at to be a leader on defense.

As for special teams, the Roughnecks brought in Canadian kicker J.J. Molson who is fresh off training with Nick Novak. Molson is an eighth generation descendant of John Molson, the founder of Molson Brewery, and you can bet the announcing crew will bring that up at least twice during the game.


Despite being the visiting team, according to oddsmakers the Showboats have been awarded a slight edge in this game.

This edge may be explained by the fact DeFilippo bested Johnson twice in 2023. On the other hand, the difference may be due to the fact the Showboats are going with a proven starter at quarterback in Case Cookus, and the Roughnecks are planning to start the more unproven Jarrett Guarantano.

In addition, the loss of running back Mark Thompson to injury may mean the Roughnecks may not have the best running game in this matchup. We will wait and see how the Roughnecks coaches make up for Thompson’s absence.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.