The Big 2023 Central Division Schedule Preview

February 7, 2023
By Adam Ruffner

Jump to each team section.

Chicago Union
2022 record: 11-1, Finished 1st in Central Division | 2023 Schedule

Two big likes:

1) Offensive versatility

The Union can hurt defenses with a variety of schemes, and their discipline with the disc has led to one of the more patient and effective attacks in the league over the past two seasons. Even without Pawel Janas, Chicago has the throwers and skill position talent to challenge defenses deep almost at will—especially with the addition of All-Star receiver Andrew Sjogren. But this team prefers precision over volume; the Union ranked 17th in huck completions per game in 2022, while coming in sixth in huck completion rate. 

As one of the premier strikers in the league, Ross Barker has exemplified the Union’s balance on offense. Long known for his receiving skills, Barker added a dimension as a deep thrower in 2022 and completed 23-of-26 huck attempts (88.5 percent), giving Chicago a potent passer in continuation scenarios. With Janas and Sam Kaminsky anchoring the backfield, and Barker and Jack Shanahan able to distribute from the stack, opposing defenses had a tough time knowing where to key in their efforts. 

Obviously Janas will leave an All-AUDL-sized hole in the foundation of this O-line, but Chicago’s framework will serve them well as they rebuild their handler core. 

2) Defensive playmaking

As consistent and central as the offense has been to Chicago’s successes, the Union D-line has provided clutch play after clutch play in big games throughout the team’s two big playoff runs. Nate Goff, Asher Lantz, and Jace Bruner all finished with double digit blocks in 2022, while John Jones had two different game-clinching layout takeaways on the road last season. The Union have the personnel to play a few different coverages, but they excel in one-on-one situations. 

As a team, the Union defense ranked in the bottom half of the league in generated turnovers. But what they lacked in volume they made up in impact. 

One big question: 

What will the Union look like post Pawel?

The two-time defending Central Division champs lost a legend last month in Janas, and there’s no serviceable way to simulate the effects of his departure until this team starts playing games again—Janas affected this franchise on an atomic level. Not only did he become the AUDL’s all-time leading passer in assists and completions, Janas only missed one game in his five seasons with Chicago.

The Union have already retained a host of top flight talent that will keep them in the thick of the divisional playoff race again this season. But is Chicago still anywhere near the championship level team that played New York last August?

One big stat:

After their first two games of the season were afflicted by late spring winds, Chicago registered 18 or fewer turnovers in each of their last 13 games of 2022.

One big matchup:

May 27 at Madison

The Week 5 “Game of the Week” matchup features the two teams who have won eight of the last nine divisional championships. The Union have won three out of their last four games at Breese Stevens Field since 2019, and allowed just 17.5 goals per game over that stretch. If Chicago still has the juice to win on the road in Madison, they will compete for another divisional title.  

Detroit Mechanix
2022 record: 0-12, Finished 6th in Central Division | 2023 Schedule

Two big likes:

1) Cubitt and Walsh Backfield

There are only a handful of passers with bags as deep as Joseph Cubitt, who can operate at volume as both a right and left handed passer. An all-star in his rookie year of 2019, Cubitt has three straight seasons of at least 33 assists and 521 completions, and won’t turn 26 until next year. And though he has never shied away from the deep ball, Cubitt can be most effective carving up coverages with incisive midrange throws and playing uptempo as an ambidextrous, throw-and-go weapon.

Bryan Walsh has acted as Cubitt’s counterweight in the Mechanix handler core the past two seasons. A pocket passer who can stretch the field vertically and has 46 huck completions in his last 23 starts, Walsh is a maximalist when it comes to the longball, and has thrown Detroit into (and out of) games with his aggressive looks downfield. 

There are few firestarters in Detroit’s lineup, but Walsh and Cubitt give the Mechanix a spark with their fearless throwing approach. 

2) Improving red zone offense

The Mechanix offense has finished at the bottom of the league in efficiency for years, but there are signs of hope. Last year Detroit had eight games with 10 or more scores inside the red zone—they had one such game in 2021—and finished 12th overall in red zone conversion rate. 

The Mechanix don’t always like to make it easy on themselves, but now when they get within striking distance, they’re showing a league-average ability of converting on their chances. 

One big question: 

Can Detroit break their 62-game losing streak?

It’s been the defining question for this franchise for five straight seasons: Can they win a game? What do the conditions look like for a Mechanix victory? In 2022, Detroit was involved in four losses of four goals or fewer, none less than three. What will it take for the Mechanix to be competitive in the fourth quarter of a game?

One big stat:

Detroit averaged the fewest blocks per game (6.8) in league history last season. 

One big matchup:

May 13 versus Pittsburgh

The Mechanix open their season at home against the Thunderbirds in what might be their best shot at breaking the streak. Two of Detroit’s closest matchups last season were against Pittsburgh, with Cubitt throwing for 12 assists, 984 passing yards, and just two turnovers in his last two starts versus the T-birds.

Indianapolis AlleyCats
2022 record: 6-6, Finished 3rd in Central Division | 2023 Schedule

Two big likes:

1) Indoor ‘Cats

In six home games last season—with all but one match played indoors—the AlleyCats averaged over 26 goals per game while committing fewer than 13 turnovers per contest. Unaffected by the elements, very good throwers like Keegan North, Xavier Payne, and Levi Jacobs became flamethrowers, bombing half field hammers over defenses, and slicing blades into narrow windows with precision timing. Cameron Brock continues to take defenders on long-winded tours of the turf going into his second decade in the league, and home state product Jeremy Keusch is on the cusp of a full-fledged breakout season. 

Indy’s offensive flow relies on swing passes and pivoting from one side of the field to the opposite. They look to take advantage of opposing defenses who are slow to transition across the width of the field, and the ‘Cats have good huck discipline when choosing their shots downfield. This has led to a lot of open looks —the ‘Cats were second overall in huck completion rate in 2022—but requires some difficult lateral passes that can result in backfield turnovers under pressure, particularly in the wind. 

Indoors, though, Indy’s attack can be prolific. 

2) Ageless Cam Brock

With his 59-goal season in year 10 in the league, Brock became the first AUDL player to lead the league in goals scored in different decades, doing it twice in the teens (2013, 2014) and then again in 2022. He enters the new season with 575 career goals, 252 more than second all-time (Matt Smith); if that gap number was a player, it would rank ninth all-time in goals scored, between Goose Helton and Mischa Freystaetter. And since unretiring midway through 2021, Brock is averaging 277 receiving yards per game, with multiple goals in all 17 starts. 

And beyond the astronomical stat numbers, there’s a visible confidence that Brock’s presence brings to this entire AlleyCats team. Facing a must-win road game in Madison in Week 12, Brock scored four of his team-high seven goals in the fourth quarter, none more critical than the final reception at the buzzer to take a necessary two-goal lead for the playoff tiebreaker.

One big question: 

Can Indy’s defense get stops against good offenses?

In six games against opponents with winning records in 2022, AlleyCats were 0-6 and gave up nearly 24 goals per game. Jacob Fella is a versatile defender in coverage, and Payne did a terrific job last year in leading the Indy counterattack. But in pure matchup coverage, the AlleyCats defense struggled to come up with answers for playoff-level offenses.

One big stat:

In one of the most impressive statistical achievements, the 2022 ‘Cats set the AUDL record for highest D-line conversion rate (66.4 percent), finishing just below New York’s own league record for offensive conversion rate (68.9 percent).

One big matchup:

May 20 versus Madison

The AlleyCats have two of their first three games on the road—at Atlanta and Chicago—and play their home opener against a Wind Chill team they haven’t beaten since 2019. That means Indy could be staring down an 0-3 record before hosting their archnemesis from Madison. The ‘Cats lost by one at home last season after taking a lead into halftime, with North finishing the game with over 700 yards of total offense.

Madison Radicals
2022 record: 6-6, Finished 4th in Central Division | 2023 Schedule

Two big likes:

1) Elite defense

2022 was by far the worst year defensively in Radicals franchise history, and they still finished top 10 in defensive efficiency. The zone isn’t quite what it once was, as offenses have adapted and evolved over the years. But Madison still employs it as well as any defense in the league, using it to slow down good offenses and keep scoring margins slim. They’ve also reloaded over the past two seasons with young and committed defenders, making them variable but tough in single matchups.

Kevin Pettit-Scantling comes into the 2023 season ranked fifth all-time in blocks, and figures to reprise his starting role on defense. He platooned half of 2022 on offense when the team faced an abundance of injuries, and still registered double digit blocks for the seventh straight season, and eighth time in nine. And with an improved throwing arsenal after his O-line stint, KPS will be even more dangerous on fastbreaks.
Matchups at the top of the Central division standings can often turn into rock fights, and no team in this division is better equipped historically for dealing with the grind than Madison. 

2) Return of Kai Marcus

It was just a two-game sample size from a rookie at the beginning of the year, but Kai Marcus added a much needed deep dimension to the Radicals attack before going down with a season-ending knee injury in 2022. With seven completed hucks in just over 70 total passing attempts, Marcus was the most prolific deep passer in the league on a per possession basis. He has range from both sides, but when in rhythm Marcus has one of the best flick hucks in the game. 

Having spent a full season learning the Radicals system from the sideline, Marcus projects to be an even more central figure in the Madison throwing lineup in 2023. Defenses have been able to settle in against Madison’s midrange, possession-based drives in recent seasons, and Marcus can punish opponents over the top. 

One big question: 

Can a franchise founded on defense fix its offensive struggles?

Following six straight appearances at Championship Weekend from 2013 through 2018, culminating in a league title, Madison is now going on five years since making the postseason. Injuries, inconsistency, and age/retirements have derailed this once great team, with the offense taking the brunt of the effects. It’s been said for three straight offseasons, but it bears repeating: If the Radicals can find league-average-to-good offensive success, they will likely make the playoffs.

One big stat:

The Radicals had the best deep defense in the league last season, allowing league lows in hucks per game (4.83) and opponent huck completion rate (52.3 percent).

One big matchup: 

May 27 versus Chicago

The Radicals are on the road for their first two games of the season before their home opener on Memorial Day weekend against the Union. Madison could reclaim a good deal of its mojo with a big win at Breese Stevens over their oldest rivals from Chicago.

Minnesota Wind Chill
2022 record: 9-3, Finished 2nd in Central Division | 2023 Schedule

Two big likes:

1) Abe Coffin moving back to offense

As fun as it was watching Abe Coffin generate Greatests off his own pulls and earn All Defense honors, the 2022 All-Star Game proved that the man and his perfect form backhand throws are naturally tailored for offense. And with the departures of primary handler Andrew Roy and Cole Jurek, Coffin is poised for a big offensive season distributing the rock for Minnesota. 

Even while playing a bulk of his points on defense, Coffin exited last season as a passing phenom, putting up five assists and 315 passing yards on 22-of-23 throws in the playoffs against Chicago, going 4-of-4 on hucks for good measure. There’s a certain aesthetic to watching Coffin unleash the disc—just watch one of his pulls in slow motion—and now he gets prototypical receiver Quinn Snider and franchise goals leader Bryan Vohnoutka as primary targets. 

2) Defensive depth

Even with some pretty significant injuries to their starting defensive rotation, the Minnesota defense finished as a top six D-line last season. Dylan DeClerck has become the face of the unit, and has the second most blocks over the past two seasons of any player in the AUDL; Minnesota as a team has finished third in takeaways for three consecutive seasons. 

There’s no real flash to Minnesota’s success. They’re athletic, they rotate and communicate well, they play well in single coverage, and they’re good at identifying their matchups. They’re a heads up team that likes to hustle, which means they employ good team defense tactics against the huck—Minnesota allowed the second lowest huck rate in the league in 2022.

And they’re great in transition. DeClerck is a master at lane interceptions, and can go from camouflaged lane defender to wide open receiver in just a few steps. Even with Coffin’s expected transition to offense, the Wind Chill counter will still be fearsome.   

One big question: 

With the opportunity to host Championship Weekend, can Minnesota finally win the Central?

With their heavy haul from the 2022 offseason, last season felt like Minnesota’s best chance yet at punching their first ticket to Championship Weekend. And for the second straight season, the Wind Chill fell short in the divisional championship against Chicago. Now with Pawel gone from the division and the biggest carrot possible—hosting Championship Weekend—on the end of their stick, the Wind Chill once again have a golden opportunity to advance to new heights. 

One big stat:

Minnesota led the league in defensive break rate* (36.1 percent) last season, which was also the highest mark since the 2018 season. 

* Total D-line points scored divided by total D-line points played

One big matchup:

June 3 versus Chicago

In what will be the second matchup in as many weeks against the Union, the Wind Chill could own the season series against their toughest rivals by the beginning of June. The road team won all three matchups in 2022, with the Union taking both games in Minnesota.

Pittsburgh Thunderbirds
2022 record: 4-8, Finished 5th in Central Division | 2023 Schedule

Two big likes:

1) Sheppard in the open field

Since the start of the 2018 season, Max Sheppard has averaged 88 scores per season, trailing only two-time MVP Ben Jagt over that stretch. The 2019 All-Star Game MVP (and 2022 All-Star Game standout) is one of the seven most dynamic and explosive playmakers in the league, able to punctuate drives with jaw-dropping throws and receptions alike. 

Sheppard excels at top speed, and can make quick-twitch decisions that outpace the reaction times of most defenders. His acceleration and foot speed allow him to dictate pace, and he can reverse the field in a heartbeat with his crossfield flicks and hammers.

2) Sam VanDusen pulls

Barring a midseason injury that derailed his 2022 campaign, longtime defensive captain Sam VanDusen would have likely jumped into second all-time in league history for most pulls. After seven seasons with Pittsburgh, VanDusen has pulled on 747 of the 891 career defensive points he has played. 

Look, I know pulls aren’t the sexiest play in the ultimate playbook. But watching VanDusen uncork nearly 1,000 lefty backhands with the torque of a Chevy pickup is a delight.

One big question: 

Can Pittsburgh grow beyond the two-man game of Sheppard and Edmonds?

Even before rumors started swirling this winter about Sheppard and Thomas Edmonds both possibly finding starting roles with new teams, the Thunderbirds seemed almost over reliant on the production of their two offensive stars. When Pittsburgh was a perennial playoff team their first few seasons in the league, their offense was one of the most balanced attacks in the AUDL. There’s no doubt about the talents of the two, but in the modern era, defenses can gameplan and slow down offenses that lack variety. 

One big stat: 

Pittsburgh’s defense may not jump to the top of your head when thinking about this team, but they were ninth in the league last season in opponent O-line conversion rate (52.4 percent), ahead of top defenses like Madison, Carolina, and DC. 

One big matchup:

May 27 versus Philadelphia

Known as the “Commonwealth Cup”, Pittsburgh claimed the last interstate matchup over Philly 23-20 back in 2021. The Phoenix have evolved into a playoff team since then, and an interdivisional loss would be especially hard for a Thunderbirds team looking to claw back into playoff contention. 

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