There is no more fearsome defense in the Big Ten this season than the unit Michigan State has assembled. William Gholston, Johnny Adams, Denicos Allen and Isaiah Lewis all look like strong contenders for first-team All-Big Ten honors, and several other Spartans could be in that mix as well.
The man behind the Spartan defense in 2012 is Pat Narduzzi, and that's in and of itself a surprise, since the only reason Pat Narduzzi is even still in East Lansing this season is that he had to turn down head coaching opportunities first.
2011 looked like a magnum opus for Narduzzi. With the aforementioned players plus DT Jerel Worthy and FS Trenton Robinson leading the charge, Michigan State was sixth nationally in total defense, ninth in rushing defense (both leading the Big Ten) and 10th in scoring defense.
Who is Michigan State's best defender in 2012?
Understandably, the rest of the college-football world took notice.
Narduzzi turned down Akron's job opening in December—a spot that instead went to Terry Bowden—and he was mentioned as a candidate for Illinois' head-coaching spot and Texas A&M's defensive-coordinator position before he announced he was staying at MSU.
"With the success we’ve had as a football program, especially the last two years, people around the country have taken notice. So when provided a professional opportunity like Texas A&M, I owed it to my family to investigate it, because my first obligation is to take care of my wife and children," Narduzzi said in a Michigan State news release.
"The bottom line remains, however, that I’m very comfortable working for [head coach] Mark Dantonio and Michigan State. The support from the top down is tremendous."
It's pretty well known that being a head coach is in Narduzzi's future, though—even AD Mark Hollis freely admits it, per ESPN.com. The interest from outside programs is only going to intensify if Michigan State puts together another dominant season on defense (odds of that: pretty damned good).
And the fact that Narduzzi got a raise to $500,000 (via MLive.com) over this past offseason is more a reflection of his commitment to the program this year than an expectation that he'll delay his ascent to a premier head-coaching spot.
What prospective hirers should expect from Narduzzi is essentially their version of Mark Dantonio, because Narduzzi and Dantonio have been working together since well before they came to East Lansing in 2006. Narduzzi served as Dantonio's defensive coordinator at Cincinnati for three years, meaning we're about to come into the ninth season in which the two have worked together.
Narduzzi's defensive style is varied and aggressive, meaning there aren't many reliable tendencies opposing coordinators and quarterbacks can exploit or depend on over the course of games. Sixteen different players each recorded at least half a sack for the Spartans in 2011, and that jumps to 19 different players registering tackles-for-loss.
Narduzzi is also an adept recruiter, something that should be reassuring for fans of wherever he ends up. According to Rivals.com, Narduzzi was the recruiter for such players as Gholston; Adams; and Elite 11, 4-star QB Andrew Maxwell, who is taking over the starting reins this year. Promising end Lawrence Thomas, another 4-star prospect, is another Narduzzi recruit.
So yes, barring catastrophe, Narduzzi is a head coach in waiting. Whoever gets him should be happy about the hire. But until then, he's with his old friend Dantonio, and they look poised to put together a mammoth year on defense here in 2012.