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Top candidates for Nebraska head coaching job

The first major college football coaching vacancy of the year is Nebraska. Who will the Cornhsuker brass tab as their next man?

Syndication: The Des Moines Register Bryon Houlgrave/The Register / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Nebraska Cornhuskers became the first college program to make an in-season coaching change this week when firing head coach Scott Frost.

A native son and quarterback of Nebraska’s last national championship team in 1997, Frost was summoned home in 2018 to turn around the program in 2018. The results never came for him in as he posted a 16-31 record in just over four seasons in Lincoln, NE. His Cornhusker teams were competitive but could never win close games, evidenced by all nine of their losses in 2021 coming by single digits. The final straw came last Saturday when the team lost a 45-42 matchup at home to Georgia Southern.

With the prodigal son failing to resurrect his alma mater, there’s now a question of where the program can possibly turn to next. Nebraska is now decades removed from the glory days of the Tom Osbourne era and reasonable fans will understand that competing for national championships isn’t a realistic goal in the immediate future. The Huskers have failed to make a bowl game since 2016 as they’ve languished in the Big Ten West. However, Nebraska still has the cache of being the biggest sports attraction in the state and it is about to receive a boatload of revenue from the Big Ten’s new tv deal. That could allow for athletic director Trev Alberts to potentially swing for the fences with this next hire.

Here’s a list of potential candidates Nebraska could target over the next few months.

Nebraska head coaching candidates

Matt Campbell

Even before Frost was officially fired at Nebraska, Campbell’s name was associated by many in the college football media as a potential replacement in Lincoln.

The Iowa State head coach has done yeoman’s work since arriving to Ames in 2016, posting a 44-34 record with the Cyclones. While that number might not pop out, consider how historically difficult it has been to maintain success at Iowa State. Campbell has kept ISU as a consistent bowl team under his watch and even took them to the Fiesta Bowl in 2020. In the next state over at Nebraska, he’d be operating in similar territory but with a significantly higher budget and better facilities.

Mark Stoops

Last year’s insane college football coaching carousel taught us that any program in the country could get their head coach jacked in the blink of an eye. So it wouldn’t be a total shock to see Alberts poach one of the most successful coaches in the SEC.

With his victory over Florida last week, Stoops surpassed Bear Bryant as the winningest head coach in Kentucky football history. He has taken the Wildcats to a program record six straight bowl games and has a pair of 10-win seasons in that span. And with UK fans’ psychotic energy devoted to basketball, Stoops gets to operate with reasonable expectations as long as he continues to deliver winning seasons.

Stoops is an Iowa guy but the Hawkeyes will have head coach Kirk Ferentz in place from now until the sun burns out. Why not take over the fallen power next door and see what you can do there? Nebraska fans would kill for the consistency Stoops has brought to Kentucky.

Luke Fickell

It’s not an official Big Ten opening until Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell’s name is brought up. Fickell has taken the Bearcats to heights they’ve never seen before as they became the first Group of Five team to make the College Football Playoff last year and are about to make the jump to the Big 12. As a Catholic head coach from the state of Ohio, it’s been speculated that the only jobs that he’d leave Cincinnati for are Notre Dame or his alma mater Ohio State.

However, what if he did decide take a Big Ten job at the westernmost program of the conference (well, at least until USC and UCLA show up)? Unlike Frost at UCF, Fickell has shown that he can actually build and maintain success at a program for an extended period of time and his connections to Ohio high schools could be a valuable pipeline for the Cornhuskers. There’s a possibility that he’s already hit his ceiling at Cincinnati even with the impending jump to the Big 12 and Nebraska would offer a new challenge.

Matt Rhule

Ok, look. Rhule’s tenure with the Carolina Panthers is not going particular well and he’s been identified as probably the biggest hot seat candidates in the NFL this year. If he gets the axe, there will be a number of potential suitors lining up to bring him back to the college ranks.

Lest we forget, Rhule was able to turn around a moribund Temple program and had them posting back-to-back 10-win seasons by the time that he left. He then inherited a Baylor program that was ravaged by the heinous sexual assault scandal and had them in the Sugar Bowl in Year 3. The downside here is that if Rhule were their man, Alberts and company would potentially have to wait until January to get him. If they did acquire his services, they’d be getting the master of the college turnaround.