Who's next? Breaking down the list of contenders for BCS openings

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Brian Kelly, Cincinnati head coach: The media's presumed front-runner for months, Kelly is 33-6 in three seasons with the Bearcats and will play for a second straight Big East championship Saturday against Pittsburgh. He previously won the 2006 MAC title at Central Michigan and the 2002 and '03 Division II national titles at Grand Valley State. He has fielded Notre Dame-related questions for weeks and has yet to definitively deny interest.

Bob Stoops, Oklahoma head coach: Despite his statement Monday that "I'm going to be at Oklahoma next year, so I can't be at two places at once," rumors continue to persist that Stoops is the Irish's No. 1 candidate and that the interest may be mutual. Obviously, it would be a home run for Notre Dame to land the six-time Big 12 champion and 2000 national title coach, but it seems odd that Stoops would walk away from a $30 million contract and lifetime job security.

Gary Patterson, TCU head coach: In nine seasons as head coach, Patterson's teams have gone 85-27 and captured three conference championships. They recently completed a 12-0 regular season and will earn a BCS berth. Known as a defensive guru with an emphasis on speed, Patterson, who served as defensive coordinator prior to his ascension, has produced the nation's top-ranked defense three of the past nine seasons. This year's unit ranks No. 2 in the country.

Jim Harbaugh, Stanford head coach: Harbaugh has had a huge impact at Stanford in a short time, leading the Cardinal to an 8-4 record and first bowl berth since 2001 in this, his third season. He's twice upset Notre Dame's primary nemesis, USC. Harbaugh, 45, has proven a masterful recruiter at a school with similarly stringent academic standards. The one drawback: His penchant for controversial, sometimes inflammatory comments may not sit well in conservative South Bend.

Mike London, Richmond head coach: The former Al Groh assistant has been a rabid success in two seasons at Richmond (also his alma mater), capturing last year's FCS national championship. This year's team stands 12-1 heading into its quarterfinal game against Appalachian State. London, 49, has spent 21 years as a coach or player in the state of Virginia. The one question is whether AD Craig Littlepage and/or London would feel comfortable with him replacing his ex-boss.

Chris Petersen, Boise State head coach: Petersen, 47-4 in four seasons as a head coach, has been linked in the past to openings at UCLA and Mississippi State, among others, but remained steadfastly loyal to the Broncos. His reserved personality fits well in Boise, and he's watched predecessors Dirk Koetter and Dan Hawkins flame out upon seeking greener pastures. However, Charlottesville offers much the same quiet setting he has at Boise but with greater BCS access.

Al Golden, Temple head coach: Another former Groh assistant (he was Virginia's defensive coordinator from 2001-05), Golden, 40, has been one of the sport's brightest stars this season, leading the long-suffering Owls to a 9-3 record, their first winning season in 19 years. Somebody's going to snap up Golden sooner than later, but like London, there's the awkwardness of replacing ex-boss Groh.

Troy Calhoun, Air Force head coach: Virginia's most successful coach of the past 60 years, George Welsh (1982-2000), came from the Naval Academy. In three years, Calhoun, 41, resuscitated Air Force's stagnant program, going 24-14 and reaching three straight bowls. He has prior experience both in the ACC (as an assistant to Jim Grobe at Air Force) and the NFL (with the Broncos and Texans from 2003-06) and may be the best fit if Littlepage looks "outside the family."

Charlie Strong, Florida defensive coordinator: For years, Southern schools have passed over the Gators' renowned defensive boss for seemingly less qualified candidates, raising questions as to whether it's a race issue. Louisville AD Tom Jurich is one of the shrewdest in the profession and will have no reservations pursuing Strong if deemed the best candidate. Strong, 49, has overseen two national championship defenses. His current unit is ranked No. 1 nationally.

Tommy Tuberville, former Auburn head coach: Tuberville, fired last year after 14 seasons as an SEC head coach (he went 110-60), has stated his desire to return to coaching at a "BCS program." Tuberville, who churned out a string of NFL running backs, would immediately restore credibility to the sagging Cardinals. Jurich can afford to pay him but may be squeamish he would jump ship a laBobby Petrino. Tuberville may not consider Louisville high-profile enough.

Phillip Fulmer, former Tennessee head coach: Fulmer, a former national title coach who went 152-52 in 17 seasons with the Vols, would jump at the opportunity if presented. He remains bitter about his ouster in Knoxville, wants to be a head coach again and would not have to stray far geographically from his longtime turf. Louisville will have to decide whether Fulmer, 59, whose program stagnated during his latter years, would bring the desired energy to the Cards.

Kevin Sumlin, Houston head coach: Sumlin, 45, is one of the rising stars of the profession. In his second season, he's led the Cougars to a 10-2 record, with wins over Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, and a berth in the Conference USA title game. A native of nearby Indianapolis, he previously spent five seasons on BobStoops' staff at Oklahoma. The one potential red flag: His background as an offensive-minded C-USA coach is extremely similar to that of Steve Kragthorpe.

Skip Holtz, East Carolina had coach: A rising star for several years now, Holtz, whose team plays for its second straight Conference USA championship this weekend, worked under current Kansas AD Lew Perkins while the head coach at Connecticut from 1994-98. Holtz, 45, who worked both for his father Lou at Notre Dame and South Carolina and as a GA under Bobby Bowden, has been linked to numerous openings in the past but appears to be waiting for the right opportunity.

Patterson: A Kansas native who played at Dodge City Community College and Kansas State, Patterson had been viewed as a candidate at his alma mater before the school lured Bill Snyder out of retirement. It's long been assumed he would eventually become a Big 12 head coach and his stock has never been higher.

Sumlin: With extensive prior experience in the Big 12 (he spent two seasons at Texas A&M and five at Oklahoma), there's little doubt the athletic directors in that league are familiar with his talents. Early in the season, he looked like the logical replacement for beleaguered Hawkins at Colorado, but with the school choosing to retain Hawkins, it may be that Kansas provides the first opportunity.

Nolan Cromwell, Texas A&M offensive coordinator: If Kansas wants to bring back a native son, there may be no better candidate than Cromwell, a revered quarterback for the Jayhawks back in the mid-'70s who went on to become a star safety in the NFL. After 18 seasons as an NFL assistant, Cromwell became MikeSherman's offensive coordinator at Texas A&M in 2008 and this season oversaw a young squad that improved from 78th to sixth nationally in total offense.

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