2015 Preview: Las Vegas Outlaws
I don’t think it is accidental that Las Vegas is getting a new Arena Football League franchise. The new AFL Commissioner, Scott Butera, has ties to Las Vegas (Butera is former Chief Operating Officer of the Cosmopolitan). The Commissioner thought the market had changed since the last time arena football was in Las Vegas and a local ownership group fronted by Vince Neil of Motley Crue was interested in an Arena Football League franchise. The city had two previous AFL teams: the Sting,1994 to 1995; the Gladiators, 2003 to 2007. The lack of local ownership was a major problem when the Gladiators played in town.
The AFL is known as an offensive league. You would not know that by Head Coach Aaron Garcia’s early picks in the expansion draft. His first pick was five-year veteran linebacker Tanner Varner from the Orlando Predators. Garcia continued to beef up the defense in rounds two, four, and five (Ernest Owusu, Julius Williams, Donovan Henley). Not all has gone according to plan for Las Vegas. Draft selections Julius Williams and Abe Markowitz have been placed on the refused to report list.
For an expansion team, management as well as on the field talent are important to success. Management made a good step in hiring Garcia as head coach. A lot has been made of Neil's twenty percent ownership. He will be the face of the ownership team and will lead the team’s marketing and community outreach efforts. I will be watching the rest of the ownership team that has years of experience in sports endeavors. Two-thirds of the Outlaws’ roster has a year or less experience in the league. That is the other major factor for success this season, if the rookies can perform as hoped.
Most often, the quarterback is the favorite for MVP. There is no question J.J. Raterink will be the one to watch. Not only will the team need his 4,000+ passing yards this season, Las Vegas will need him to lead this young team on and off the field.
I predict the Outlaws will have a .500 record this year. I can’t narrow it down to which games will be their most likely wins and losses, except for three. You can always throw out the statistics in rivalry games. Los Angeles will be a natural geographic rival. I think hardcore Las Vegas fans want revenge on the Gladiators for abandoning them. This will make Cleveland another Outlaws rival. With that in mind, the Outlaws will split with the Los Angeles KISS and beat the Cleveland Gladiators.