Some of Michigan State's best football teams featured former head coach Mark Dantonio on the sidelines with defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi.
Dantonio and Narduzzi spent eight seasons together in East Lansing, in which the Spartans had four seasons with 11 or more wins, shared and won two Big Ten championships and defeated rival Michigan six out of seven times.
Narduzzi departed the program after the 2014 season to become the head coach at Pittsburgh, where he's been ever since. The Panthers and Spartans met in the 2021 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, which brought about a reunion of sort for Michigan State and Narduzzi.
MSU defeated Pittsburgh, 31-21, in the Peach Bowl.
However, the fond memories and history between MSU and Narduzzi didn't prevent the Pitt head coach from taking a shot at Michigan State and the Big Ten Conference this week.
Appearing on Bazzy's Black and Gold Banter, a podcast centered around the Pittsburgh Steelers, Narduzzi claimed that if Panther quarterback Kenny Pickett had played in the Peach Bowl the Panthers would have won the game by three touchdowns.
"He is a 21-point difference, okay," Narduzzi said of Pickett. "Michigan State gets their butt kicked in. It's at least a 14-point difference in (backup quarterback) Nick Patti plays the whole game. I can tell you that. That's how I feel."
Pickett sat out the Peach Bowl to protect his first round draft status, and to rest a lingering minor injury to his ribs. He was selected No. 15 overall in the 2022 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Patti, meanwhile, started the game for the Panthers, but suffered an injury early in the game, leaving Pitt with it's third-string quarterback for the majority of the bowl game against the Spartans.
However, Narduzzi either forget or ignored the fact that Michigan State tailback Kenneth Walker III, who won the Doak Walker Award in 2021 as the nation's best running back, also sat out of the Peach Bowl.
How does Walker's presence on the field effect that supposed "21-point" spread, Pat?
Narduzzi wasn't done there, however.
"If that's one of the best Big Ten teams, let's go to the Big Ten and win it every year," Narduzzi also said.
Like Michigan State, Pittsburgh had an excellent season in 2021. The Panthers won the ACC for the first time since joining the league in 2013, and reached 11 wins for the first time since 1981.
However, for Narduzzi to insinuate that Pittsburgh could join the Big Ten and win the league on even a regular basis is downright laughable.
After reports began surfacing of Narduzzi's comments about Michigan State and the Big Ten, the Pitt head coach doubled-down on both fronts.
"I've coached in the Big Ten for eight years, so I know it," Narduzzi said.
No disrespect intended to what Dantonio and Narduzzi accomplished together at MSU, but the modern Big Ten is a much more difficult league than the one that Narduzzi remembers.
His last season as the Spartans' defensive coordinator was the first season for former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and current Penn State head coach James Franklin — both of whom helped take recruiting in the Big Ten to an entirely new level over the past near-decade.
Narduzzi was also out of the league before Jim Harbaugh arrived at Michigan. Say what you will about the Wolverines' head coach, but the program in Ann Arbor is in a significantly better place than it was while Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke led the program when Narduzzi was in East Lansing — that's not debatable.
In 2017, Minnesota hired P.J. Fleck and Purdue hired Jeff Brohm — both programs are better than they were when Narduzzi left the Big Ten after 2014.
Again, this is not the Big Ten that Narduzzi remembers. Meanwhile, prior to 2021, the ACC had been practically a one-team conference — Clemson — for the previous six seasons, when the Tigers one the league each season.
According to Narduzzi, that reality is changing.
"You know, we play some darn good football in the ACC, and I think people forget about it," Narduzzi said. "I think Dabo [Swinney] made a comment yesterday about everybody talks about, oh, Clemson had a down year, and his is exactly rght. People need to wake up. How about the teams that are getting better? I think Pittsburgh is getting better, so we'll start there."
Narduzzi later tried to further explain his comments.
"That's just confidence," he said. "That's no disrespect to the Big Ten or Michigan State. It's just about Pitt and about the ACC. Again, that's all I can tell you. I think ACC football is really, really good, and that's really the comment there that I was trying to get across."