Midseason review: USC

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

USC may be rebuilding, but it's still contending for another Pac-10 title and, perhaps, another shot at the national championship.

Though USC was again picked to win the conference in the preseason media poll, the general feeling was the Trojans were as vulnerable as they had been since 2002, and teams like California and Oregon had the talent to challenge them.

After Mark Sanchez bolted a year early for the NFL, USC would be breaking in a new quarterback with no or little game experience. It also had to replace eight starters from one of the best defenses in college football history.

Things have worked out fairly well.

True freshman Matt Barkley looks like the next great USC quarterback, and the defense ranks among the national leaders in every major category.

The trip to midseason wasn't completely smooth. With Barkley and All-American safety Taylor Mays both sitting out with injuries, the Trojans were upset at Washington, leading many to write them off.

But USC won its next three games -- Washington State, California and Notre Dame -- and now sits at No. 4 in the polls and No. 7 in the BCS rankings.

A redletter date at Oregon on Oct. 31 looms.

Offensive MVP: There was some initial skepticism that a true freshman could handle being USC's starting quarterback, but Barkley has answered that skepticism with poise and big plays. He leads the conference with 268 yards passing per game and he ranks third in pass efficiency. He won in two storied venues -- Ohio State and Notre Dame -- against ranked teams, leading a clutch, 14-play, 86-yard drive in the waning moments to win in the Horseshoe.

Defensive MVP: Rey Maualuga left behind big shoes to fill at middle linebacker, but sophomore Chris Galippo has proven to be a more than capable replacement. He's the leading tackler for a unit that, despite replacing eight starters, ranks fifth in the nation in scoring defense. Galippo averages 6.8 tackles per game. Five of his stops have come for losses and he also leads the Trojans in pass breakups. His interception and return at Ohio State was one of the key plays of the game.