Midseason report: USC

USC Trojans

Record: 4-2, 1-2 Pac-10

It's now fair to say that the USC dynasty is over. Completely. In the preseason, it wasn't ridiculous to wonder if the four-loss team from 2009 was just a blip and that the Trojans would bounce back in 2010, reinvigorated under new coach Lane Kiffin. That clearly hasn't happened. USC looks like a middle-of-the-pack team in the Pac-10.

Kiffin was left a poor hand. The Trojans talent was already down -- see 2009 -- but a series of events have left them with just 70 scholarship players. There is a decided lack of depth. Kiffin has joked that the challenging present will be good practice for the future, because NCAA sanctions have docked USC 30 scholarships over the next three years.

Even through a 4-0 start, USC looked unimpressive. The defense was exposed immediately when Hawaii piled up big numbers in a 49-36 USC victory. The offense then looked bad in a 17-14 win over Virginia. Things seemed to come together slightly during wins over Minnesota and Washington State, but neither of those two teams provide much of a measure.

The last two games, though, were revealing. Playing two opponents that beat them last year -- Washington and Stanford -- the Trojans again went down due to late drives for winning field goals. The defense just couldn't get a stop during crunch time. The Trojans looked uninspired against Washington, but they fought hard at Stanford, a team that ran the score up on them in 2009.

They just couldn't impose their will like the USC teams of 2002-2008 always did. The question going forward: Will the postseason ban start to sink in over the coming weeks, making it harder for the team to get focused and motivated every week?

Offensive MVP: Sometimes people forget that Matt Barkley is a true sophomore. It certainly seems like he's been around a while -- perhaps that's because there's been so much USC news over the past year-plus -- but he's quickly matured into one of the nation's best quarterbacks. He ranks 14th in the nation and second in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency. He's completing 65 percent of his throws and averaging 253 yards passing per game. He's thrown 15 touchdown passes with just four interceptions. He seems well on track toward joining previous USC quarterbacks as first-round NFL draft picks.

Defensive MVP: The USC defense has been mostly bad this year, but tackle Jurrell Casey has been mostly good. He's got 32 total tackles, with 3.5 coming for a loss and two sacks. He's still widely considered an early-round NFL draft pick. Casey's numbers will pick up significantly if his line mates can stay healthy.