Northern Illinois won't want to hear this, but Illinois should give Huskies first-year coach Dave Doeren a look to replace Ron Zook.
Like a number of the candidates floated for the Illini's opening, Doeren has Big Ten ties. Prior to being hired by Northern Illinois, he was at Wisconsin for five seasons. He was the Badgers' defensive coordinator, linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator.
Wisconsin's defense was constantly among the Big Ten's best under Doeren. The Badgers ranked third in the Big Ten in scoring defense last season. His 2008 rush defense ranked first in the Big Ten and fifth in the country. The Badgers were No. 2 in scoring defense in then nation in 2006. Wisconsin played in five bowl games during his time there.
Unlike Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi and Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, two other potential Illinois candidates, Doeren does now have head coaching experience. It's only one season, but Doeren knows what's it like to be in charge of a program.
Doeren showed this season he has what it takes to be a head coach, too. After starting out 2-3, the Huskies won their last seven games, which included wins over Western Michigan and Toledo, took the MAC West title and are favored in this week's MAC championship.
Northern Illinois' offense has been among the nation's best this season. It's No. 11 in the country with 39.6 points per game. Its defense hasn't been as stellar, giving up 32 points a contest. But that probably can be overlooked. The Huskies' defense was young and inexperienced this season, and Doeren has proven himself as a defensive mind.
Doeren would also provide a recruiting advantage in-state. For the last year, he's been making the rounds of Illinois high schools. He may not have had a shot at the same high-end players Illinois did, but he's been creating relationships with a lot of the same programs. Northern Illinois has eight in-state recruits in its 2012 class.
The one hurdle could be a financial one. After losing head coach Jerry Kill to Minnesota last season, the Huskies made sure the next school that comes for their coach will have to pay him handsomely.
Illinois would have to give Northern Illinois $1 million to buy Doeren out of his five-year contract after one season. But for a school that will be playing Zook $2.6 million to not coach, that doesn't seem like a whole lot of money.
Even if Doeren isn't interested or Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas goes in another direction, Doeren's worth looking into. With his background in the Big Ten and success so far in the MAC, he has the making of a future Big Ten head coach. It just depends whether it's at Illinois or somewhere else.