On Christmas night, the bombshell dropped. Max Bullough won't be playing in the Rose Bowl. His decorated Spartan career is over.
But there is still that game to be played, and MSU's top-ranked defense will be without its leader.
Against a power-running team like Stanford, middle linebacker might be the most important position, and the Spartans are missing theirs. Who will fill in?
It likely plays out in this order: Kyler Elsworth, Darien Harris, Ed Davis. I don't expect the redshirt to be burned on true freshmen Jon Reschke or Shane Jones.
I've been surprised to not often see Elsworth's name this season as a fifth-year senior. In the past two years, he's been a linebacker in 3rd-and-long situations, and it seemed like he just always made a play. From a third-down stop against Wisconsin in 2011, to a blocked punt in the same game and some big plays against TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings bowl last year.
Elsworth has played in all 13 games and recorded 10 tackles and one pass break-up. At 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, he's a bit undersized, but we've seen him shed blocks in big situations. As the experienced guy, I would expect him to get the start. He's splitting the first-team reps with Harris.
Currently listed as the backup at STAR linebacker behind Taiwan Jones, Harris has played in all 13 games, recording seven tackles and a QB hurry. The redshirt sophomore reportedly a very smart kid. Given Reschke hasn't been able to play this season due to injuries/subsequent redshirt, it's possible Harris is the starting middle linebacker next season.
However, at 6-foot-0, 215 pounds, he's even more undersized, and if those big Stanford linemen or tight ends get to him, you wonder how well he'd be able to shed blocks.
Davis has really come on of late as an outside linebacker, but the problem is he hasn't gotten much (if any) work in the middle, based on my understanding. As the middle linebacker, you're the captain and have make audibles and get the calls to everyone. That was Bullough's best attribute. I do expect the safeties and Denicos Allen to play a bigger role in this sense, but I don't expect Davis, a redshirt sophomore, to play here. Now, if Elsworth and Harris both struggle mightily, maybe Davis gets thrown in there, but I wouldn't expect him to be Plan A or B. Davis has 17 tackles in 13 games, including four sacks.