The Pac-12's most critical position battles

USC's Pac-12 hopes could come down to a heated internal QB battle between Max Browne (left) and Sam Darnold. USA TODAY Sports

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Josh Rosen's spot is safe at UCLA. Christian McCaffrey shouldn't be worrying about touches. And JuJu Smith-Schuster doesn't need to look over his shoulder at USC.

But not everybody in the Pac-12 has the same kind of job security as those three established stars.

Here are the biggest position battles on each Pac-12 team, presented in order of predicted finish.

North Division

Washington Huskies: Wide receiver

QB Jake Browning loses three of his four top pass catchers, including Jaydon Mickens (58 receptions, 692 yards, two touchdowns) and tight end Joshua Perkins (36-539-3). Dante Pettis (30 catches) and Brayden Lenius, a tough matchup at 6-5, 228 pounds, should be bigger contributors. The return of John Ross, who was out last season with a knee injury, also helps. He had 371 yards and four TDs in 2014.

Stanford Cardinal: Quarterback

Four-year starter Kevin Hogan didn't cede a lot of playing time (951 of 1,010 pass attempts since 2013), so potential replacements Keller Chryst and Ryan Burns are still unknowns. They have similar frames and measurables -- at 6-foot-5, they're both a hair taller than Hogan -- and similar inexperience, with four and six career game appearances, respectively.

Oregon Ducks: Defensive line

New defensive coordinator Brady Hoke is moving the Ducks from a 3-4 to a 4-3, overhauling a defense that allowed 6 yards per play, ranked 125th against the pass (307 yards per game) and lost a 31-point lead in the Alamo Bowl. Hoke is moving linebackers up and converting offensive linemen in search of a fourth starter, but he's done this before. In 2011, he installed a four- man front at Michigan, and the Wolverines improved from 35.2 points per game in 2010 to 17.4, with sacks rising from 18 to 30.

Washington State: Left tackle

The Cougars averaged 3.6 yards per rush last season, the best rushing rate of Leach's tenure. But now Washington State needs to replace Joe Dahl and his 34 career starts. Andre Dillard (who appeared in two games) and Cody O'Connell (12 games on special teams) will battle for the job, and Leach will be paying close attention. The Cougars allowed 41 sacks, and Falk suffered a concussion against Colorado and missed the Apple Cup at Washington.

California Golden Bears: Quarterback

Jared Goff started all 37 games from 2013 to 2015, setting 26 school records, including career marks of 12,220 yards and 96 TDs. Chase Forrest, who redshirted in 2014 and went 10-of-18 for 162 yards, a TD and an INT in three games as Goff's backup, has Dykes' trust. But the 6-foot-2, 205-pound passer will be pushed by Luke Rubenzer and Ross Bowers, who both pose a running threat. A wild card: Graduate transfer Zach Kline, who left Cal two years ago after losing the job to Goff, returns for another shot at the job.

Oregon State Beavers: Running back

Gary Andersen's best offenses feature a star in the backfield (like Robert Turbin at Utah State and Melvin Gordon at Wisconsin), and that was missing last year as OSU ranked 10th in the league in rushing attempts. Oregon State loses three of its top five rushers: QB Seth Collins transferred, RB Storm Woods graduated and Paul Lucas moved to WR. Ryan Nall surprised in the second half of the season, rushing for two 100-yard games, including 174 yards against Oregon. Damien Haskins and juco transfer Tim Cook will also be names to watch.

South Division

USC Trojans: Quarterback

The quarterback spot at USC is one of the most glamorous in college football. Max Browne, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound junior, has waited behind Cody Kessler for two years, throwing just 19 passes, completing 11 of them for 143 yards. But redshirt freshman Sam Darnold impressed on the scout team and will push him. The winner of the derby gets the keys to an offense loaded with talent -- and one on a crash course with the Tide defense.

UCLA Bruins: Wide receiver

The Bruins lost four of their top five pass catchers, and although Darren Andrews (42 catches, 429 yards), Eldridge Massington (11 for 120) and Kenneth Walker III (9 for 231) have experience, they combined for just two TD receptions last season. ESPN 300 recruit Theo Howard, who enrolled early, leads a group of four-star recruits who could work into the mix.

Arizona Wildcats: Center

Finding the right anchor for the offensive line would obviously help ease concerns about the health of Wilson and Solomon; the Cats averaged 3.5 sacks surrendered in losses, compared with 1.4 in wins. Senior Zach Hemmila (6-foot-3, 310 pounds) and sophomore Levi Walton (6-foot-3, 290) both subbed in at center in 2015, but keep an eye on redshirt freshman Nathan Eldridge (6-foot-3, 286), a scout-team star last year.

Utah Utes: Quarterback

Troy Williams, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound transfer from Washington via junior college, is the favorite to replace Wilson. Recruited by Steve Sarkisian, he appeared in just five games after the arrival of Chris Petersen. Williams transferred to Santa Monica College, where he threw 31 TDs and rushed for seven last season. He'll battle junior Brandon Cox and freshman Tyler Huntley, an early enrollee who has earned praise for his athleticism.

Arizona State Sun Devils: Quarterback

The Sun Devils need to fill four spots on the offensive line, but they still don't know who they'll be blocking for at QB. With four players in the mix to replace the departed Mike Bercovici -- Brady White, Manny Wilkins and Bryce Perkins all got equal reps in the spring ahead of the arrival of freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole in the summer -- they'll likely take their competition well into fall. They'll be working with a new offensive coordinator in Chip Lindsey (formerly of Southern Miss), who will also serve as the quarterbacks coach.

Colorado Buffaloes: Running back

Since coach Mike MacIntyre arrived, he hasn't had a back who can give the offense 20 to 25 carries per game, which is what the staff would prefer. It's a crowded backfield, which includes Phillip Lindsay, who led the team in carries (140) and touchdowns (six) in 2015, converted receiver Donovan Lee and Michael Adkins II. Hopes are also high for Donald "Dino" Gordon, a 2015 four-star signee from Compton, California, coming off his redshirt season.