The preseason favorites to win the BCS National Championship haven't quite lived up to their billing, stumbling in their first conference game against Stanford in Palo Alto, but USC remains one of the most dangerous teams in the nation despite a relative lack of depth beyond their starting 22. Washington's defense will again have to bring its A-game to compete with a team that rolled to an easy 40-17 victory against the Huskies last season in the Colesium.
Quarterback: Matt Barkley carries the weight of being the most storied player to emerge from the country's most storied program in a generation or more. The first true freshman to start a season opener in USC history, Barkley opened 2012 as the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, based largely upon his stellar junior season in which he completed 69.1 percent of his throws for 39 touchdowns against seven interceptions and a 161.22 quarterback rating; it also didn't hurt that he was the starting quarterback on the nation's No. 1 preseason team. Steve Sarkisian memorably said last year that, were Barkley to enter the 2012 draft, he would have taken him ahead of Andrew Luck.
But like seemingly every preseason Heisman favorite, Barkley seems to have come back down to earth in the early going of this year. While he's regressed a bit from his performance last year --- 64.2 percent, 15 touchdowns and five INTs through five games --- he's still one of the premiere quarterbacks in the nation, and carries a 31-10 record as the Trojans' starter.
Running Back: What happens when you're not satisfied with having just one 1,000-yard rusher on your team? Why, you poach one from another team, of course! There was no small amount of irony in watching Lane Kiffin, whose team will likely struggle to succeed under the weight of recruiting sanctions in the years to come, reach across the country to State College, Pa., to snag Penn State standout Silas Redd, who was free to transfer to any program he wished this year due to historic sanctions that the NCAA levied in the wake of the Sandusky scandal. Redd has largely displaced last year's starter Curtis McNeal as the Trojans' go-to back, racking up 415 yards and five touchdowns so far; McNeal, meanwhile, has notched 225 yards and has yet to break into the end zone.
Offensive Line: USC's depth at this position (or more accurately, the lack thereof) was on vivid display during the Trojans' game against Stanford, in which senior center Khaled Holmes, a second-team all-conference player in 2011 and a team captain this year, was sidelined with an ankle injury. Holmes' replacement, redshirt freshman Cyrus Hobbi, wilted under the pressure of Stanford's ferocious front seven and seemingly took the rest of the offensive line with him, as the Trojans gave up 12 tackles for loss and four sacks, both season highs for the Cardinal. Due to Barkley's propensity to take deep shots down the field, the Trojan's passing attacked is predicated on its ability to buy the less-than-mobile Barkley time to get comfortable in the pocket on five- and seven-step drops. A strong Washington pass rush effort from players like Josh Shirley would go a long way toward throwing USC off of its game plan.
Tight End: The Trojans employ a pair of third-year sophomores, Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble, at the tight end position. Both players function largely as dump-off options for Barkley when his receivers are covered and are rarely the primary receivers in the open field. However, Barkley has shown a willingness to find them in the red zone, as the two players have a combined three touchdown receptions on 16 total catches this year.
Wide Receivers: This is where Lane Kiffin's real wealth rests, as the Trojans have two legitimate first-round picks in Marqise Lee, pictured above, and Robert Woods, who combine for nearly 70 percent of USC's passing yardage and 80 percent of the team's receiving touchdowns this year. No other receivers on the Trojans even come close to commanding as much of Barkley's attention as these two: After Lee's 52 receptions and Woods' 31, the next closest receiver, true freshman Nelson Agholor, has five. Another player who boasts Lee-like talent is sophomore George Farmer, whose relative silence this year is due to ongoing injury issues.