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With (from left) Urban Meyer, James Franklin, Pat Fitzgerald and Jim Harbaugh, the Big Ten has plenty of NFL talent on the sidelines, as well.

ESPN: 4 Big Ten coaches are NFL material, but which is pros’ top candidate?

Jim Harbaugh likes speculation about a return to the NFL as much as he likes old oatmeal. But he can’t change the fact that he’s one of the most viable candidates for NFL jobs out there and that his name will be brought up during rumor mill season each year.

That happened again Wednesday when ESPN released its list of top NFL coaching candidates. Harbaugh was No. 1.

The list was voted on by 45 ESPN analysts, who were asked to rank which current non-NFL head coaches they would try to hire if they were a general manager with an opening. Nobody got more points than Harbaugh. Here’s what ESPN said about the Michigan coach:

In Harbaugh’s one NFL stop in San Francisco, he took over a 6-10 team and went 44-19 over the next four seasons ― which included a heartbreaking three-point loss in Super Bowl XLVII. Before that, he inherited a 1-11 Stanford team and went 29-21 over four seasons. Most recently, he inherited a 5-8 Michigan team and has gone 28-11 in the three seasons since.

Stanford coach David Shaw got the second-most votes, New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels got the third-most and Alabama’s Nick Saban had the fourth-most votes.

It should be noted that Harbaugh was not the only Big Ten coach to make the cut. In fact, three other conference rival coaches made the top 45, and the names are not too surprising.

Harbaugh’s chief rival, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, was No. 13 on the list. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was 30th, and Penn State coach James Franklin was 36th.

Harbaugh just wrapped up his third season at Michigan. Former Michigan running back Chris Howard explained in a Land of 10 column earlier this week why he thinks Harbaugh will be at Michigan for the long haul.

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