In July 2014, after speaking at a banquet in Troy, then-Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi was reminded of the game that wasn’t much of one.
“So,” the question started, with a hint of sarcasm, “what happened in that game against Alabama?”
Narduzzi looked down, shook his head and said something interesting.
“We’ll get them when it matters,” he said.
In other words, with a national championship on the line.
Narduzzi has since moved on, taking over as Pittsburgh’s coach.
But no doubt he’ll be watching with interest when those championship hopes are on the line Dec. 31 in the Cotton Bowl, where Michigan State and Alabama meet in the College Football Playoff semifinals.
It’s the first meeting between the schools since the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1, 2011, when Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide rolled the Spartans, 49-7.
It was the most-lopsided loss in Michigan State bowl history.
That also was the fourth consecutive bowl loss under Mark Dantonio, and the most eye-opening.
But since that humiliating afternoon in Orlando, Fla., Michigan State has won four consecutive bowls.
“We weren’t ready yet,” Dantonio said of that 2011 loss. “We weren’t ready for that scope yet.
“So we’ll see how far we’ve come from that particular moment. But you know, that was (the 2010 season), so this is a completely different dynamic.”
Dantonio and Saban are downplaying the matchup, from the old vs. new angle. The former co-workers — Dantonio worked for Saban when Saban was Michigan State’s coach — say they’re friends.
It’s a more passionate matchup from the perspective of fans who still burn over Saban’s exit in 1999 amid a dispute and complete disconnect with then-school president M. Peter McPherson.
But this isn’t the Michigan State team.
These Spartans have won 52 games the last five years, including a Rose Bowl, and finished fifth in the national rankings last season, third the year before and 11th in 2011.
“They know about the last time we played Alabama,” co-defensive coordinator Mike Tressel said of the players. “I also think they view it much like we do, which is that was a completely different team and we were at a different point in our program in 2010 than we are here in 2015.
“We are excited for the opportunity to show ourselves, as well as everybody else, where this program has come over the past five years.”
Alabama vs. Michigan State
Kickoff: 8 p.m. Dec. 31, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Records: No. 2 Alabama 12-1, No. 3 Michigan State 12-1
Line: Alabama by 10
Series: Alabama leads 1-0