December 26, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Matt Charboneau

Spartans lose their heart, soul with Bullough suspended for Rose Bowl

Max Bullough has 9.5 tackles for loss this season and 1.5 sacks. (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)

To attempt to quantify what Max Bullough means to the Michigan State football team – or more accurately now, what the team has lost – is nearly impossible.

There are plenty of impressive accolades. He’s been All-Big Ten twice, is a third-team All-American this season, a two-time captain and an Academic All-American. He’s also the leader of the No. 1 defense in the nation, orchestrating every aspect of the Spartans’ attack from his middle linebacker position.

But now that the senior has been suspended for Michigan State’s Rose Bowl matchup with Stanford for violating team rules, it is not a stretch to say the Spartans have lost their heart, lost their soul.

That’s not a slight to the rest of the Spartans who have won 12 games this season, captured a Big Ten championship and earned the team’s first Rose Bowl berth in 26 years. However, no player has meant more to this program than Bullough.

Few players can match Bullough’s intensity or knowledge of the game, and quite frankly, his leadership has been unmatched. That makes his transgression – whatever it is – even more puzzling considering the state it has left his team heading into its biggest game in decades.

The player most would look to for leadership in working out of a difficult situation is Bullough, and now his teammates must regroup without him.

The Rose Bowl has been everything to Bullough. It’s been ingrained in him since he was young, the grandson of Spartan great Hank Bullough and the son of former MSU linebacker Shane Bullough. His uncles, Chuck Bullough and Bobby Morse, also played for the Spartans.

Being Michigan State’s middle linebacker was in his blood and getting the Spartans back to the Rose Bowl was what pushed him every day – as a true freshman playing on special teams and backing up Greg Jones, to a junior imploring his team to beat Minnesota to become bowl-eligible in the final week of the 2012 season, and ultimately being the centerpiece of the best defense in the nation in 2013.

And now, with that dream of a Rose Bowl finally realized, Bullough didn’t even make the trip.

“You're sitting at this point at the end of your senior year and you've gone through a lot,” Bullough said last week. “You've done a lot of hard work, done a lot of good things.

“It's been great. It's been everything we ever dreamed of. Coming off that Big Ten championship game, it was an emotional win, it's a win that was huge for this program, but ultimately we need to play well and win the Rose Bowl, be Rose Bowl champions. Not only is that setting this team off right, it finishes the season the way we want to, on a positive note.”

Any chance of that is gone for Bullough, and without their heart and soul, it has now become unbelievably difficult for the Spartans.