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Pac-12 will feature star power, uncertainty at QB in 2017

Steven Montez will have first crack at taking the reins at Colorado. Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

The Pac-12, aka the Conference of Quarterbacks, will again lead the nation behind center in 2017.

Four conference quarterbacks will appear near the top of offseason "watch lists," led by USC's Sam Darnold and Washington's Jake Browning, both of whom finished ranked in the top 10 in ESPN.com Stats & Information's "Total QBR" this past season. After them comes UCLA's Josh Rosen and Washington State's Luke Falk.

Rosen suffered through a disappointing, injury-shortened 2016 season, but a shakeup with the Bruins' offensive staff might benefit him. Falk has put up huge numbers in two-plus years as a starter, but he'll be looking to take the proverbial next step as a senior. Both are looking to advance their NFL stock, with Rosen looming as a potential No. 1 pick in the spring of 2018.

While Oregon's 2016 season and offseason has been nothing less than constant tumult, the one area of seeming stability -- even with a new coaching staff on hand -- is QB Justin Herbert, who mostly played well as a true freshman thrust into a difficult situation. The 6-foot-6, 225-pounder could be ready for a star turn in 2017.

Yet, as is usual, more an a few teams have questions behind center. While we rate the aforementioned five Pac-12 teams as being settled at the position, the following seven have varying degrees of uncertainty as their attention turns from the 2016 season and recruiting toward spring practices.

Here's a look.

Arizona

Candidates: Junior Brandon Dawkins and sophomore Khalil Tate

Skinny: Things became less complicated for the Wildcats after two-plus-year starter Anu Solomon decided to transfer to Baylor in advance of his senior season. Dawkins rushed for nearly 1,000 yards, but his passing was inconsistent -- see eight touchdowns vs. six interceptions and 53.8 completion rate. Tate saw some limited action in 2016 and didn't look ready for Pac-12 play. Touted recruit Braxton Burmeister opted to switch his commitment to Oregon, where he has enrolled early so he can back up Justin Herbert over the next two or three seasons.

Arizona State

Candidates: Junior Manny Wilkins, sophomore Blake Barnett, sophomore Brady White, sophomore Dillon Sterling-Cole and sophomore Bryce Perkins

Skinny: This one is complicated. Wilkins is the returning starter, and he'll likely take the first snaps when spring practices start. Barnett is the touted transfer from Alabama who might be the favorite to win the job if not for his awaiting a ruling from the NCAA on when he'll be eligible to play. It could be immediately or it could be a month into the season. White and Perkins are trying to come back from serious injuries, while Sterling-Cole is talented but could use a redshirt year. Oh, and by the way, the Sun Devils are looking for a new offensive coordinator after Chip Lindsey bolted for Auburn.

California

Candidates: Sophomore Ross Bowers, junior Chase Forrest and redshirt freshmen Max Gilliam and Victor Viramontes

Skinny: When now-deposed coach Sonny Dykes landed the coveted transfer of Davis Webb to lead his 2016 offense, it delayed the ascension of Bowers and/or Forrest. Now, new coach Justin Wilcox will have to decided between Bowers, last year's backup, or Forrest, or perhaps he'll go young with the two freshmen. Or, more accurately, new offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin, formally Eastern Washington's head coach, will make the call in an offense that features the QB as a runner more often than Dykes' did.

Colorado

Candidates: Sophomore Steven Montez and redshirt freshman Sam Noyer

Skinny: Last fall, starter Sefo Liufau got banged up on multiple occasions. That 2016 difficulty is now a 2017 benefit, as the big armed, 6-foot-5, 225-pound Montez -- an uncertainty as a backup before the season -- flashed plenty of potential while passing for just over 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns. While the Buffaloes' defense is rebuilding, the returning talent on offense is strong, so Montez will have plenty of help as he acclimates to the full-time job.

Oregon State

Candidates: Senior Darell Garretson, junior Marcus McMaryion, sophomore Conor Blount, redshirt freshman Mason Moran and junior Jake Lutin

Skinny: There are so many talent upticks suggesting the Beavers are on the cusp of a turnaround in Gary Andersen's third season, but the situation behind center is the linchpin. If Oregon State gets at least adequate play at QB next year, it's a bowl team. Simple as that. But last year, with the above crew, it averaged a pitiful 5.9 yards per attempt with a 54.7-percent completion rate and finished 118th in the nation in passing efficiency. Expect Luton, a JC transfer, to be in the mix. You probably won't have to wait long for a pecking order to develop as the Beavers begin spring practices in mid-February.“It will be a highly competitive environment and we’re going to move quickly to decipher who gives us the best opportunity to run the offense," Andersen said in December.

Stanford

Candidates: Junior Keller Chryst, senior Ryan Burns, redshirt freshman K.J. Costello and true freshman David Mills

Skinny: If Chryst hadn't blown out his knee in the Sun Bowl win over North Carolina, this might not have been listed as a position of uncertainty. But even with a healthy Chryst, the Cardinal passing attack wasn't terribly healthy in 2016, ranking last in the Pac-12 with 158.2 yards per game. The big question is whether Chryst's extended absence due to a torn ACL -- perhaps even into the 2017 season -- means the touted youngsters get a long look, particularly Costello. Mills won't arrive until the summer.

Utah

Candidates: Senior Troy Williams and sophomore Tyler Huntley

Skinny: Williams is a returning starter. He led the Utes to nine victories and a final national ranking. Yet he didn't answer the nagging question all Utah fans have asked since their team joined the Pac-12: What might our team accomplish with an A-list player behind center? Well, our retroactive answer for this past season is the Utes would have won the South Division with only slightly better QB play. Huntley, the Gatorade Player of the Year in Florida as a senior at Hallandale High School, is an intriguing talent who played well coming off the bench in the Foster Farms Bowl. At the very least, he'll push Williams this spring.