Rose Bowl 2014: Max Bullough's Suspension Gives Glimpse to MSU's Future on D

Andrew CoppensContributor IDecember 26, 2013

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Life without Max Bullough was going to happen soon, but it will be happening sooner than anyone in green and white would've imagined—as the two-time Michigan State Spartans captain is suspended for the Rose Bowl

Waking up to the news left many thinking it had to be some kind of nasty rumor, right?

After all, the last name Bullough is Michigan State football and Max is the embodiment of that in this generation of Spartans. 

Yet, that's exactly what will happen, as Bullough was not on the team flight to California and the athletic department announced the suspension via a press release

Max Bullough has been suspended for the remainder of the season for a violation of team rules. It is extremely disappointing for all parties involved. We will stay focused and close ranks as we prepare for Stanford on January 1 in the Rose Bowl. Max will forever remain a Spartan and valued member in this team’s achievements.

There are many questions left unanswered, but perhaps the biggest is just how long Michigan State knew Bullough wasn't going to play?

Bullough's presence won't be easily replaced, and if they'd had a heads up for awhile, it may have helped to soften the blow. Michigan State can't expect to have anyone step up and replace the numbers or leadership Bullough showed on the field in less than a week's time.

Not only is Bullough a three-time starter at linebacker, but he also is a two-time first team All-Big Ten selection and a third team All-American pick this year.

This season Bullough racked up 76 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. He finishes his career with 299 tackles, 30.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks. 

This team will inevitably look different on January 1, 2014 when it takes on Stanford in the Rose Bowl. It also means the Spartans' chances of defeating Stanford just took a massive hit. 

Not only because Bullough will be missing, but also because the replacements for Bullough aren't exactly what you'd call experienced at linebacker.  

The most likely replacement appears to be fellow senior Kyler Elsworth, who's made all of 10 tackles and one pass breakup in 13 games of limited action this season.

November 17, 2012; East Lansing, MI, USA; Northwestern Wildcats quarterback Trevor Siemian (13) has his throw hurried by Michigan State Spartans linebacker Kyler Elsworth (41 )during the 2nd half of  a game at Spartan Stadium. Northwestern won 23-20.
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Elsworth has done most of his damage as a special teams demon, recording 69 tackles over his career so far. Despite that experience, he's never made a start at linebacker in his career. 

Beyond Elsworth, MSU is likely to also give sophomore Darien Harris (seven tackles in 13 games) a chance to slide in at that position.

Reports also indicated that Max's younger brother, Riley Bullough, has made the switch back to linebacker after getting a look during the regular season as a running back. 

In announcing the switch for Bullough, head coach Mark Dantonio indicated he planned on getting the younger one some snaps in the Rose Bowl. 

"It would be nice to play him a couple snaps in the bowl game just because of the opportunities that may lie ahead for him," said Dantonio. "But we'll see how that all works out. Obviously, he's a fixture on our special teams."

How surreal would it be to see Riley, and not Max, being the one out there making a difference in the Rose Bowl? 

It may be very surreal but also very helpful for the future of this program.

Losing Max Bullough is a blow to the Spartans, but allowing some of the youth a chance to show themselves against top competition will give MSU a leg up on figuring out the long-term answer to who replaces Bullough in the middle. 

It's just coming sooner than anyone expected. 


*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. You can follow Andy on Twitter: @ andycoppens.