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Senior College Football Columnist

Top 10: Most important QB battles of the offseason

Max Wittek will be the favorite to replace Matt Barkley at USC. (USATSI)

Even though most coaches will say that every position on the field is up for grabs, that's often not the case. But this fall, as usual, there are a lot of wide-open QB battles that could ultimately lead to special seasons. One first-year starter in 2012 helped spark his team to the BCS title game (Notre Dame's Everett Golson) while another (Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel) won the Heisman. Here are the 10 most important to keep an eye on this year:

1. FSU: The Noles are dealing with quite a bit of transition this off-season with a massive staff shake-up and the departure of numerous standout players, including QB E.J. Manuel. But Jimbo Fisher, the guy who runs the Noles offense, returns and he's got some good options at QB. He's got some experience and grit in Clint Trickett who started a few games in 2011 and has thrown more than 100 passes in his college career. He's also got two bigger, highly rated former recruits in Jameis Winston, a smooth dual-threat guy who former NFL QB-turned Elite 11 mentor Trent Dilfer said has first-pick-in-the-NFL draft type tools and strong-armed Jacob Coker, who has battled some foot issues this off-season but has ability that has FSU insiders gushing. If the QB who emerges as the top guy, can avoid looking like a first-year starting QB, the Noles still have enough talent to get to a BCS bowl.

2. USC: Matt Barkley is gone and Lane Kiffin enters 2013 on the hot seat as the Trojans hope some new leaders emerge. Whoever Kiffin's new starting QB is will have the nation's top WR to rely on (Marqise Lee) and a few other very gifted targets too, led by rising star Nelson Agholor. Max Wittek, who started the final two games of 2012 after Barkley was lost to injury, was shaky but did gain some experience. Wittek has good size and a powerful arm. He's the favorite assuming his knee is fine from getting rolled up on over the weekend. Cody Kessler is more of a scrambler and had a strong first week of practice while former five-star recruit Max Browne arrived early and is in the mix as well. It's a stretch to see this USC team as a top 20 team right now, but the intriguing thing is how Kiffin is really in a must-win situation. Or at least he has to get to nine wins, and doing so while breaking in a new QB in the process won't make that easy.

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3. Oklahoma: Blake Bell saw a lot of action at OU last season but it was as a short-yardage weapon. Can the 6-6, 254-pounder consistently make the throws to elevate the Sooners back to being a Top 10 team? Remarkably, Bell actually has more rushing TDs in his career (24) than passes attempted (20) at OU. Could Bell blossom this year into being the Sooners' version of Collin Klein? Bob Stoops' other options are redshirt freshman Trevor Knight, a fleet-footed Texan and Kendal Thompson, son of former OU QB Charles Thompson. One thing is for certain: whoever wins this job will be more of a running threat than Landry Jones was. Meanwhile, the Sooners have more than their share of issues on defense too, where they have to replace seven starters.

4. Wisconsin: Gary Andersen comes from Utah State, but doesn't bring Chuckie Keeton with him to Madison. Instead, Andersen has a full-fledged quarterback derby on his hands. The Badgers have several QB candidates with extensive experience with Curt Phillips, Joel Stave and former Maryland starter Danny O'Brien all returning. Adding more intrigue to the mix here are 6-4, 220-pound Bart Houston, a promising former Elite 11 QB product with a very good arm and dual-threat JC transfer Tanner McEvoy, who arrives for fall camp. This one seems very wide open. Andersen's recent history shows that he likes a QB who can cause problems for a D with his legs. That bodes well for Phillips and McEvoy.

5. Oklahoma State: A flurry of injuries in 2012 prompted Mike Gundy to have to play three QBs last season and all three -- freshman Wes Lunt, J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf were impressive. Walsh is the best runner of the trio. Lunt's got an elite arm, which helped him win the job last year but Chelf proved he can make big throws too and he may be the guy to beat here. There's also a new OC managing the whole deal in Mike Yurcich.

6. Oregon State: The Beavers had a strong 9-4 season playing two QBs, Sean Mannion and then Cody Vaz after Mannion was injured. Both QBs struggled late in the season and there's uncertainty about who is the right guy to lead this team in 2013. Mannion had a 9-12 TD-INT ratio over the regular season's final two months, while Vaz finished the year throwing two picks and getting battered by Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

7. TCU : As I wrote last week the return of Casey Pachall is one of the bigger stories of this off-season. If he's matured and ready to go, the Horned Frogs are a Big 12 title contender and a Top 10 threat, but first he has to beat out young Trevone Boykin , a gifted dual threat QB who showed promise in 2012 when rushed into action.

8. Kansas State: Collin Klein wrapped up a fantastic career at K-State, but now Bill Snyder has to find a leader and play-maker for his program. Daniel Sams, last year's back-up is a Louisiana native who is one of the faster guys on the Wildcats team. He will be pushed by touted JC transfer Jake Waters, who arrives with a sterling 39-3 TD-INT ratio last season at Iowa Western CC.

9. Arkansas: Bret Bielema takes over a program that had a nightmarish 4-8 season and also has to find a new QB with Tyler Wilson moving on to the NFL. One thing we're pretty confident in saying is that the Hogs new starter will be named Brandon. Brandon Allen , son of longtime Hogs assistant Bobby Allen, played some as Wilson's back-up last season while Brandon Mitchell, a much more dynamic athlete, saw more time at wideout. Both have good mobility, especially Mitchell, and that's really a good thing since Arkansas has to replace three starters up front.

10. (tie) West Virginia: Dana Holgorsen has had prolific QBs everywhere he's been, and with a defense coming off a dreadful 2012, he's going to need another one to emerge this fall if the Mountaineers hope to get back into the Top 25. In Paul Millard, WVU has a heady guy with a nice arm and very limited mobility who really knows the offense. In big redshirt freshman Ford Childress, son of NFL star Ray Childress, the Mountaineers have more of a prototype looking NFL QB with impressive physical tools. Millard's consistency running the show won't be easy for Childress to overtake.

10. (tie) Vanderbilt: There are two open QB battles going on at SEC programs in the state of Tennessee, but since the Commodores are the ones coming off the Top 25 season while the Vols and their new coach Butch Jones are in more rebuilding mode, Vandy makes this Top 10. James Franklin loses Jordan Rodgers but still has an experienced QB around in former Wyoming starter Austyn Carta-Samuels, who is battlingPatton Robinette. Carta-Samuels has the stronger arm and can be creative extending plays while the lankier Robinette is a gamer but it seems likely that he'll have a tough time beating out the former Mountain West Freshman of the Year.

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