And his senior season has failed to reach the expectations set that week in December in much the same way that Barkley's has. McDonald, a three-year starter at free safety, leads the Trojans in tackles, but has produced few big plays. He has intercepted only one pass and has no sacks and just five tackles for loss -- tied for third-best on the team.
McDonald is the fourth-best senior safety in the country, according to Mel Kiper's latest rankings. He was widely projected as the best one three months ago.
Some internet scouting reports are now listing him as a potential third- or fourth-round selection in next April's NFL draft. McDonald was thought to be a possible late-first or second-round selection in the April draft.
Asked about his play after Saturday's loss to Oregon, McDonald said he was doing "alright."
"I feel like I've done some good things and done some things that I want to improve on," McDonald said. "My play's not gonna make too much effect on the entire game. We gotta make sure how we play collectively as a defense."
On Wednesday, he sounded a little more positive, saying he felt like he was "improving as a player every week."
"Sometimes it's not always gonna be your best game," McDonald said.
Asked this week if McDonald was reaching the standards he had set in the past, USC coach Lane Kiffin said he didn't think so.
"Probably not, because T.J.'s standards are so high," Kiffin said. "T.J.'s very competitive and wants to be the best player in America.
"If you miss a couple tackles, you're not playing to that standard."
McDonald missed multiple tackles against Oregon and was also whistled for two personal-foul penalties against Arizona, but he has continued to fill his role as the team's defensive leader.
He said Wednesday that the biggest thing USC's defense needs going forward is "everybody individually taking care of what they need to take care of."