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Pac-12 position battles to watch this spring: Who starts at tackle at USC and cornerback at Washington?

These are the must-watch position battles expected to take place this spring in the Pac-12.

NCAA Football: Alabama vs Southern California Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

There are countless position battles about to take place around the Pac-12 this spring. Here are the most-interesting or most-important for each program this year.

Arizona: Running back

Running back is probably the most-important position in Rich Rodriguez’ system after quarterback and the injuries which hit the program in 2016 were a big part of why the Wildcats struggled last season. The good news is there is actually a lot of talent at the position if key players can get healthy in 2017.

Depth:

Nick Wilson 5’10 210 Sr.

Zach Green 5’10 230 Sr.

J.J. Taylor 5’6 170 Fr.

The Wildcats have an excellent trio of running backs who will compete to be the number one back and each carry their own skill set. Green is a big back with size, Taylor is an extremely small, slippery back with speed and Wilson is the full package in the mold of former Wildcat stud Ka’Deem Carey. Ideally, the Wildcats will get Wilson healthy and he can get back to his freshman year level when he ran for more than 1,300 yards and Green and Taylor fill in as change of pace backs.

Arizona State: Quarterback

Manny Wilkins was the starter in 2016, but Alabama transfer Blake Barnett (started in Alabama’s opener) is expected to make a major run at the starting job in the spring and the job will probably be up for grabs even if Barnett flops as Wilkins was unable to fully push himself past the Sun Devils’ other young quarterbacks last year.

Depth:

Blake Barnett 6’5 200 So.

Manny Wilkins 6’3 200 Jr.

Brady White 6’2 205 So.

Bryce Perkins 6’3 210 So.

Ryan Kelley 6’4 190 Fr.

Barnett seems to already be the favorite to win the job. He won the job at Alabama, so he is expected to rise to the top of a Sun Devil QB group which underwhelmed in 2016. I wouldn’t write off Wilkins and co. just yet, but they will probably have to fight this spring to keep the former Crimson Tide starter out of the starting slot.

Cal: Quarterback

The Bears are right back to finding a new quarterback a year after an underwhelming spring competition which precluded Davis Webb showing up.

Depth:

Ross Bowers 6’2 190 So.

Chase Forrest 6’2 205 Jr.

Max Gilliam 6’2 205 Fr.

Chase Garbers 6’2 210 Fr.

This battle is a wild one. None of these quarterbacks put up much of a fight against Webb to start last year and not one of them saw a single snap. Because of this, and the coaching change, I wouldn’t be shocked if true freshman Garbers is a serious contender for the job as the only player signed by Justin Wilcox.

Colorado: Defensive Line

One of the reasons the Buffs were so good in 2016 was their veteran defensive line which was loaded with seniors. Those players are gone and the Buffs will have to reload with some new faces who saw limited time in 2016.

Depth:

DE Leo Jackson 6’3 275 Sr.

DE Timothy Coleman 6’3 250 Sr.

DT Jase Franke 6’3 260 Jr.

DE Michael Mathewes 6’4 260 Jr.

DE Brett Tonz 6’3 285 So.

DE Frank Umu 6’4 280 So.

The Buffs have a clump of players who could step in right away. Jackson, Coleman and Franke seems like the players who will step in for me as each finished 2016 with more than 10 tackles. However, they are going to have to fight off some younger talent which is waiting in the wings.

Oregon: Defensive Tackle

Everyone knows the Duck defense was a massive disaster in 2016 and because of that and a new coaching staff, I am sure just about every position is wide open this spring. I’m going to focus on where it all starts though and where the Ducks really struggled in 2016, defensive tackle.

Depth

Gary Baker 6’4 305 So.

Elijah George 6’5 290 Sr.

Rex Manu 6’3 305 Jr.

Drayton Carlberg 6’5 290 So.

This position was bad for the Ducks, but there is talent and experience here. George, Baker and Manu all have massive potential and the size to turn into impact players. I wouldn’t be surprised if one progresses into a full-time starter here instead of a committee, it will be interesting to see how this big athletes develop in their first spring under a new staff.

Oregon State - Left Tackle

One of the reasons Oregon State improved in 2016 was left tackle Sean Harlow getting healthy. Unfortunately for the Beavers, he was a senior and they will have to find a replacement in 2017.

Depth

Blake Brandel 6’7 295 So.

Will Hopkins 6’7 300 Sr.

Trent Moore 6’4 295 Jr.

Brandel started at right tackle in 2017 and should be a great candidate to slide over. He will have to battle with another 6’7 monster in Hopkins though and a polished, but smaller player in Moore.

Stanford - Quarterback

The Cardinal are on year two of their quarterback competition. Keller Chryst looked to be establishing himself as the clear starter for the Cardinal, but he tore an ACL in the Sun Bowl and now will not be available in the spring, blowing the competition wide open.

Depth

*Keller Chryst 6’5 235 Sr. (injured, will not participate)

Ryan Burns 6’5 230 Sr.

K.J. Costello 6’5 220 So.

*Davis Mills 6’2 190 Fr. (incoming freshman, will not participate)

This one will be a battle between Burns, who is sticking around for a fifth year and Costello who is coming off his redshirt year, to try and get a lead on the recovering Chryst and incoming Mills. I think Stanford fans will want to see Costello take the lead as Burns underwhelmed in 2016 after winning the job in fall camp.

UCLA - Left Tackle

UCLA’s offensive line struggled in 2016 despite having all-conference left tackle Conor McDermott and will now have to find a replacement for McDermott.

Depth

Andre James 6’4 300 So.

Kolton Miller 6’9 305 Jr.

Zach Bateman 6’6 300 Sr.

The Bruins have a few options here. Miller could replace the 6’9 McDermott with another 6’9 player or slide over promising young player James. Bateman serves as a back-up at left tackle and could make an easy transition into starter.

USC - Tackle

The Trojans have to replace both starting offensive tackles in Chad Wheeler and Zach Banner. It will be no easy task as both 2016 starters were first-team All-Pac-12 players.

Depth

Chuma Edoga 6’4 290 Jr.

Nathan Smith 6’6 275 So.

Clayton Johnston 6’6 285 So.

Chris Brown 6’5 300 Jr.

The Trojans have a wealth of blue chip recruits to choose from to step in. The troubled, but talented Edoga is a frontrunner as long as he stays in the program, but the other spot is more of a question mark. Smith and Johnston have been solid in depth, but watch for Brown, who is usually a guard to possibly slide out if needed.

Utah - Running Back

The Utes had major injury problems while they tried to replace Devontae Booker last year, but were saved when Joe Williams returned to the team and became one of the best running backs in the nation. Now, just one year later, they have to replace an All-Pac-12 running back again.

Depth

Armand Shyne 5’11 215 Jr.

Zack Moss 5’10 215 So.

Troy McCormick 5’9 180 Sr.

This might not be a super accurate “Spring” preview as I am not sure if any of these super talented backs will even be available in spring due to each suffering serious injuries during the 2016 season. All three could step right in for Williams and become an All-Pac-12 starter if all goes well, but we will see how much action any of them will see this spring.

Washington - Cornerback

The Huskies have to replace two starting cornerbacks who I think will go in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft in Sidney Jones and Kevin King. They have some talented youngsters who have seen some time, but they will have massive shoes to fill.

Depth

Jordan Miller 6’1 175 Jr.

Austin Joyner 5’10 190 So.

Byron Murphy 5’11 170 Fr.

Kentrell Love 6’1 175 Fr.

The Huskies have very nice stash of young talent at cornerback. Miller looks like the lanky athlete who could be a lot like Jones and Joyner is more of a stout athlete with physical skills. Redshirt freshman Murphy and Love also have a great chance to stand out this spring after sitting out in 2016.

Washington State - #2 Wide Receiver

The Cougars get Tavares Martin Jr. back but have to replace the great Gabe Marks and River Cracraft. They have a few players who could do just that.

Depth

Robert Lewis 5’9 165 Sr.

Kyle Sweet 6’0 190 Jr.

Isaiah Johnson-Mack 6’3 215 So.

The Cougars have a cluster of depth receivers who will vy for the second starting spot this spring. Lewis, Sweet and Johnson-Mack each bring their own style to the table and could emerge this spring as an excellent complement to Martin Jr.