TRAVERSE CITY — This was to be Max Bullough’s day in the sun. A perfect setting — the 100th Rose Bowl in Pasadena — to end a storybook season and a memorable career for the Michigan State middle linebacker, captain and All-American.
That’s how it was all playing out after the Spartans knocked off previously unbeaten Ohio State 34-24 to win the Big Ten title, earning the school’s first appearance in the “Granddaddy of Them All” since 1988.
Then last Thursday morning that scenario fell apart with the shocking news that Bullough had been suspended for violating team rules.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has declined to reveal the rule violation, leading to rampant speculation on the Internet and around town. Bullough’s suspension dominates conversation, whether it was in the aisles at grocery stores, on downtown streets or even in the lobby of movie theaters.
All that Dantonio would say was, “it is extremely disappointing for all parties involved. We will stay focused and close ranks as we prepare for Stanford. Max will forever remain a Spartan and a valued member in this team’s achievements.”
Michigan State players admitted they were shocked at the news before leaving East Lansing for Pasadena.
“We’ve had to climb hills and adversity before,” said senior Kyler Elsworth, who is expected to start at middle linebacker today in Bullough’s absence. “We all have to pick it up and make the best of the situation. We need to fight for 60 minutes.”
Spartan fans were shocked as well.
“Disbelief at first,” said Jim Teahen, a 1968 Michigan State graduate when he first learned of the suspension. “But I’ve not heard anything to tell me why. It surprises me because I think he is a pretty quality individual.
“It’s disappointing certainly. He’s (Bullough) a key player. I give Dantonio a lot of credit for being willing to bench somebody if they don’t follow team rules.”
Bullough has been a three-year starter at Michigan State, a member of the winningest class in school history. He has been part of some incredible highs at Michigan State since he arrived on campus in the winter of 2010. Among the highlights include a win over Notre Dame in 2010 on a fake field goal in overtime, a victory against Wisconsin one year later when Keith Nichol caught a deflected pass and scored on the last play of the game and this year’s win against Ohio State in the league championship contest in December, a win that knocked the Buckeyes from the BCS Championship game.
Bullough, who led St. Francis to state titles in 2008 and 2009, finished the season with 76 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss while earning third-team All-American status. He is a two-team Academic All-American.