Yes, there are still 5 games to play. Things change by the week. But Nebraska’s coaching search is starting to narrow.

Where will AD Trev Alberts turn for a new coach? One thing’s for certain; Nebraska absolutely cannot botch this hire. Alberts must get it right.

With Nebraska on its 2nd bye week, let’s take a dive into 5 candidates Alberts has a close eye on, and rank them top to bottom on the likelihood of landing the job.

1) Lance Leipold, Kansas

The national lovefest of Leipold has cooled after the Jayhawks’ 2-game losing streak. But don’t be fooled. This guy is near or at the top of Alberts’ pecking order. He has a proven track record with stops at Wisconsin-Whitewater and Buffalo. He knows how to turn a program around. And quick. The reclamation project he’s performing at KU is nothing short of remarkable.

The Jayhawks currently sit at 5-2, but they are playing without injured starting quarterback Jalon Daniels. Daniels is out with a separated shoulder sustained in KU’s 38-31 loss to TCU on Oct. 8.

Jason Bean has since filled in and done a nice job. But the spark and big-play ability that Daniels showed over the team’s first 5 wins can’t be replicated. Leipold must push the right buttons to keep the Jayhawks’ season from going off the tracks. A road game at Baylor (and coach Dave Aranda) should offer more than a clue into Kansas’s psyche and emotional state. I expect KU to be in it until the final buzzer. Which is why I think the 58-year-old Leipold remains a front-runner for the job in Lincoln.

Why would he jump ship? Money and facilities to name a few things. Nebraska has deep pockets and Alberts is not afraid to use funds to get his guy. Plus, the Huskers are in the midst of building a brand new indoor practice facility and will begin work on stadium improvements soon. If KU can finish the season in respectable fashion without the services of its starting QB, I think Leipold is the guy. That’s assuming Wisconsin sticks with Jim Leonhard and doesn’t come in and swoop Leipold off the table.

2) Matt Campbell, Iowa State

Fans are starting to sour on Campbell as the Cyclones have lost 4 straight. All losses have been 1-possession games. Huskers’ fans know the feeling all too well. Scott Frost mastered the art of losing close ones. Nebraska needs a guy that can get it over the hump.

But let’s not discount Campbell and his overall job performance in Ames. He’s 45-38 in his 7th season at the helm. He’s doing it in Ames, Iowa, not Tuscaloosa. Campbell’s taken the Cyclones to 5 straight bowl games. A Fiesta Bowl appearance in the 2020 season was a badge of honor. The guy knows how to maximize talent.

If Campbell can flip the narrative and get the close games to go his way, look out. ISU has several chances to turn heads, with remaining games against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU. Plus, Campbell is only 42 years old. Longevity has to be somewhere in the mind of Alberts. I think Campbell is still in the thick of the race, and Nebraska could do a lot worse than landing a guy with an 80-53 overall record.

3) Mickey Joseph, Nebraska

Joseph has done a fantastic job taking over a difficult situation after Frost’s firing. Nebraska is playing with effort and playing loose. If the trend continues and the Huskers can reach 6 wins, don’t count Joseph out. The players love playing for him. And many fans have put their support in Joseph’s corner.

With a chance to knock off No. 18 Illinois in his next game, Joseph’s audition could gain more steam. And if he can end long losing streaks against Wisconsin and Iowa to finish, he may just put himself in the driver’s seat and make Alberts’ decision even more difficult — or easy, depending on how you look at it.

Bottom line, if Joseph can navigate the mess he was handed, and get Nebraska to a bowl, you have to think he’s the guy.

4) Bill O’Brien, Alabama OC

O’Brien will get his shot to be a head coach again in the near future. He leads an Alabama offense that ranks 7th nationally at 513 yards per game. O’Brien also has head coaching experience with stints at Penn State and with the NFL’s Houston Texans. The Texans made the playoffs in 4 of O’Brien’s 6 seasons.

Offense is O’Brien’s strength. With Alberts being a defensive guy, one has to wonder if that will factor into his decision. But make no mistake, O’Brien will be a sought-after commodity. If he wants back in as a head coach, he’ll surely have several options.

5) Chris Petersen, former HC at Boise State and Washington

Petersen is a sleeper pick. He’s a candidate who has flown under the radar and hasn’t been talked about as much as the others.

Petersen got out of coaching after the 2019 season as Washington’s head man due to stress-related health issues. Talk is, he’s found coping mechanisms to deal with the stress of college coaching, and may be looking into a final return to the sidelines. Petersen turned 58 last week but likely has plenty still in his tank.

His 147-38 record is jaw-dropping. The man knows how to win. And his yearly success recruiting players to Boise, and then Seattle, can’t be ignored. In his 14 seasons as a head coach, his team’s never missed a bowl. His epic win over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl is still talked about today.

Peterson would be a home run hire for Alberts. A hire the divided Huskers fanbase would be on board with. Even though it’s still a long shot, don’t rule it out.

Other names still in the mix

There’s still other names to consider. Coastal Carolina’s Jamey Chadwell has done a nice job leading the Chanticleers program. Washington’s Kalen DeBoer has quickly moved up the ranks and has the Huskies in contention in the PAC-12. However, a move after 1 year in Seattle is unlikely.

Finally, Gary Patterson and Dave Aranda are guys from Texas who could draw interest. Patterson is helping resurrect the Texas defense, and Aranda loves building programs from the ground up. How much interest either has in the job is another story.

Regardless of the direction Alberts goes, there’ll be plenty of intrigue in the coming weeks. Not only is Joseph under the microscope over the final 5 games, others are as well.