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Michigan State football: Updated list of top 5 coaching candidates

Only a week left in the season.



Michigan State football
© Evert Nelson/The Capital-Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

After going through almost two months without a head coach, who are the top options for Michigan State football?

Week 10 of the season is in the books and that means that we’ve been without a Michigan State football head coach for eight weeks now. Ever since that Week 2 win over Richmond, the Spartans have been under the leadership of interim coach Harlon Barnett.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been two months. OK, it’s not that hard because this season has felt like it’s lasted a decade.

But now that we only have a month left in the season (barring a miracle), I feel like it’s time to check out an updated list of head coaching candidates. Here are my top five candidates after Week 10.

1. Lance Leipold, Kansas HC

You might be surprised to see Lance Leipold at the top of the list, but he’s truly been that impressive this season. The Kansas head coach just picked up an impressive road win over a surging Iowa State team. He has the Jayhawks all the way up at No. 16 in the College Football Playoff rankings. Kansas has reached the seven-win mark for the first time in 15 years and Leipold is to thank. And people forget that he’s been doing all of this damage with a backup quarterback leading the way.

Leipold is simply a winner at every single level and he would undoubtedly get Michigan State back on the right track. The only downside here is his age.

2. Mike Elko, Duke HC

Duke shook off a two-game losing streak to Florida State and Louisville by scratching and clawing its way to a win over Wake Forest this past week. With the win, the Blue Devils will reach bowl eligibility for the second year in a row under Elko. That’s not exactly a common occurrence in Durham.

Elko is a proven winner who has a defense-first mentality, but he has a history of being a really good recruiter and he’s turned around every single defense on the way to his first head coaching job. I don’t think any Michigan State fans would be upset if he was the next head coach.

3. Urban Meyer, FOX Sports analyst

Yes, I’m putting Urban Meyer on here essentially because I’m trying to speak it into existence. There had been rumors of the former Ohio State head coach turned FOX Sports analyst speaking with Michigan State football. Unfortunately, those rumors came to a grinding halt at the end of last week before he headed to Big Noon Kickoff. Is he potentially putting these talks on hold in order to finish out the year with FOX? Potentially. But it would be a shame if Alan Haller and Michigan State didn’t at least inquire. I mean, he is a top 3-4 head coach of all time.

4. Jonathan Smith, Oregon State HC

Trying to pry Jonathan Smith away from his alma mater won’t be easy. But he’s been one of the most impressive coaches in all of college football over the past two seasons. The Beavers are 7-2 on the season and in the middle of a Pac-12 title race and they just picked up a nice road win over Colorado.

If Smith and the former bottom-dwelling Beavers can pull off two wins in their final three games, we’re going to hear a lot more clamoring for the former Oregon State quarterback to be the next head coach in East Lansing. Not many coaches can win in Corvallis consistently, but Smith is one of them. This dude can flat-out coach.

5. Jedd Fisch, Arizona HC

It’s time we really take Jedd Fisch seriously. For whatever reason, we haven’t had him on the radar until recently, but the former Michigan offensive coordinator is excelling in Tucson. The Wildcats are having their best season in what feels like over a decade, sitting at No. 21 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings after picking up a third straight ranked win. Arizona took down UCLA last weekend, 27-10. That followed wins over No. 11 Oregon State and No. 19 Washington State. The other two ranked opponents, No. 9 USC and No. 7 Washington, beat the Wildcats by a combined nine points. Essentially, Arizona is a couple of wins away from being a playoff team.

Fisch deserves a ton of credit because when he took over, this program was in the gutter. Heck, he went 1-11 in his first season with Arizona before improving to 5-7 last year and it looks like he’ll win 7-8 this year.

He’s new to this list, but Michigan State football insider Justin Thind believes he’d be a good candidate, and I do, too.

Writer, co-owner of Spartan Shadows. Michigan State and college football expert at FanSided and formerly of The Detroit News. Expert on all things Michigan State. Connor Muldowney has written about Michigan State since graduating from the university with a degree in journalism back in 2013. Ten years of experience as a Michigan State writer/reporter.