One of them is Dave Doeren, who is in his second season as the head coach of the Northern Illinois Huskies. Despite having just those two seasons (less than two, technically) of experience, Doeren has turned heads in Illinois and elsewhere with what he's been able to do in the Mid-American Conference.
In just two years, the 40-year-old Doeren has compiled a 22-4 record that's included two winning streaks of at least nine games. He's 1-0 in bowl games and poised to go to another one once the Huskies wrap up their season this week.
Prior to arriving at NIU, Doeren was the defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator at Wisconsin under Bret Bielema. Originally hired as the linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator in 2006, Doeren was promoted in 2008 and became the first Bielema assistant to earn a head coaching job. Prior to joining the Wisconsin staff, Doeren was the linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator.
Known as a defensive-minded coach and a great recruiter, Doeren has taken what was already a strong NIU program under Jerry Kill and made it even better in his limited time there. During his time at Wisconsin and Kansas, he recruited players like Montee Ball, Aqib Talib (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Darrell Stuckey (San Diego Chargers). He also coached J.J. Watt (Houston Texans) and Matt Shaughnessy (Oakland Raiders).
Doeren led the Huskies to an 11-3 mark a season ago, a record that landed the program in the GoDaddy.com bowl against Arkansas State. The Huskies won that game 38-20, ending the season on a 9-game winning streak after losing early in the season to Kansas (45-42), Wisconsin (49-7) and Central Michigan (48-41).
The school rewarded Doeren's inaugural season with a contract extension and bump in pay. His contract, which runs through June 30, 2017, pays him $420,000 annually. If Doeren leaves for another job before June 30, 2013, his buyout would total $750,000.
In 2012, Doeren's Huskies have been even better. No. 21 Northern Illinois has won 11 straight games after a season-opening loss to Iowa (18-17), and the Huskies are poised to get into the BCS mix with a win in Friday's MAC Championship game against No. 17 Kent State. The Huskies avenged losses to Central Michigan and Kansas this season, downing the Chippewas 55-24 in and the Jayhawks 30-23 in back-to-back games in late September.
Northern Illinois averages 40.5 points per game, good for 11th nationally, and has scored at least 45 points in five games. Perhaps the most impressive caveat to those statistics is that Doeren has helped NIU accomplish them despite replacing his offensive coordinator three times in his two years at the helm. The Huskies have primarily been a spread that has mixed in some Pistol and other offensive sets to get the ball to playmakers.
Defensively, the Huskies have been just as good, surrendering 17.5 points per game, good for 15th nationally even in the points-happy MAC. With the ability to recruit the Southeast, Doeren could likely improve an NC State defense that ranks 83rd nationally in total defense in a hurry.
What Makes Him A Viable Candidate
Doeren is a fast-rising star among coaching candidates for BCS conferences, and his performance in his first two years at NIU is a good reason why. He's won, and he's won big in a league that is known for parity.
The Huskies have gone on two remarkable winning streaks under Doeren and have themselves in position to potentially get in on the BCS party with a win over Kent State. Those are things that generate attention, both from the media and athletic directors scoping out offseason hires.
His contract and buyout also put him in the mix for the NC State job. He makes less than half a million dollars a year in base salary, and his buyout is less than $1 million. He'd get a significant pay bump to make the jump to the Atlantic Coast Conference, and by all accounts he appears ready to do just that.
Doeren's attitude and youth are also big factors. In a mid-November interview with ESPN Chicago, Doeren and his athletic director talked about his future as a big-time head coach, with Doeren saying, "I've never done anything where I don't expect to be successful. I've never taken any job without the determination I'm there to win." Given Debbie Yow's comments about wanting a young, energetic recruiter, that comment from Doeren seems like it would go over well with NC State's ultimate athletic decision-maker.
Why It Might Not Happen
Like the rest of the candidates that have been linked to the NC State job, Doeren is a rising star that is on every athletic director's radar. That is especially true of schools in the Big Ten and Midwest, where Doeren has spent the majority of his 16-year coaching career.
Doeren has been linked to openings at Purdue, Colordao and California, meaning Debbie Yow and the Board of Trustees at NC State may be dealing with some competition to get him to Raleigh.
Doeren's defense-first approach could also be a bit of a concern, as many have speculated that Yow is looking to bring an offensive-minded coach in to lead the Wolfpack.
Pack Pride's Take
Despite flying under the radar compared to Morris and Dykes, Doeren is a real possibility. Not many coaches have had as much success as Doeren in such a short amount of time, and his performance at NIU doesn't at all look like a fluke.
He's inexperienced, sure, but so are others that have been linked to the NC State job. Despite the lack of head-coaching experience, he's spent years in big-time football at Kansas and Wisconsin, and no doubt has an understanding of what would be expected at a bigger university.
Doeren's contract situation also makes him attractive. NC State wouldn't have to spend $2-3 million right away, and his buyout wouldn't break the bank of a Wolfpack donor.
Doeren may or may not be at the top of Yow's list, but there is little doubt that he is on it and receiving serious consideration.