BY MIKE ECKERT
TRAVERSE CITY — Eric Gordon and the Michigan State Spartans had Big Ten Conference championship dreams long before they took the football field this fall.
Those dreams were realized when the Spartans finished 11-1 overall, 7-1 in the Big Ten.
That mark earned Michigan State a share of the league title with Wisconsin and Ohio State — the final year in which there will be multiple winners. Nebraska joins the Big Ten next season as the league splits into two divisions with a title game to decide the champion.
For now, though, three teams enjoy the glory, including Gordon's Spartans.
"It really hasn't (sunk in)," said Gordon, a four-year starter at outside linebacker who helped transform MSU from Big Ten also-ran to league champion. "I'll probably figure it all out and it'll hit me about 10 years down the road. I still don't even realize I'm living a dream I've had since I was a little kid. I definitely recognize all of the accomplishments we've made here, but it just hasn't hit me. After we beat Penn State and became co-Big Ten champs, I was looking at some of the guys saying 'did we really just do that?' It's still a great feeling. I'm honored to be on this team. I guess I came here at the perfect time."
Every team aspires to be champions, but it took Gordon a few games to really see how great this year's team was.
"It was more after Wisconsin," Gordon said. "They're a great team. They're powerful. We just came out to play. And after that, everyone thought we're almost unstoppable. If we come to play, come with excitement and emotion, we're a great team. After that everyone realized what we could do and how special this team really was. I knew it was a special team back in February when we started winter workouts. It made us better and brought us together."
The Spartans beat the Badgers 34-24 to improve to 5-0 on the year. It would be the only loss on the season for Wisconsin, which earned the Rose Bowl berth in the tie-breaker due to the highest BCS standings.
Michigan State will play in the Capital One Bowl versus Alabama, the defending national champions.
Gordon said he's excited to face the Crimson Tide and 2009 Heisman winner Mark Ingram.
For his career, Gordon enters the bowl game with 327 tackles — 13th in school history. He registered 88 tackles as a senior — including 12 in his final home game against Purdue.
Gordon wasn't the only Traverse City representative on the 2010 Spartans.
True freshman Max Bullough left St. Francis last winter to enroll early. He saw action in all 12 games at middle linebacker or on special teams and finished with 21 tackles and an interception.
"It's always good to see Traverse City guys doing well," Gordon said. "It's good to see were getting some recognition, having a lot more guys playing college football."
After the New Year's Day bowl game, Gordon will turn his attention to the NFL Combine. He hopes to play at the professional level.
While the Spartans will lose veteran linebackers Gordon and All-American Greg Jones, Bullough will be among the young players looking to step in.
"He's going to do real well here," Gordon said. "He's tough, he's got good speed and he's very knowledgeable. The hardest thing when you come into college is learning the defensive schemes and the different pace of the game. He came in during the spring, picked it up and has done a great job."