- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Each Friday during the season, we'll be taking a look at a Big Ten player to watch when the games kick off Saturday.
This week's selection: Michigan State LB Max Bullough
Saturday assignment: at No. 25 Wisconsin, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2
Michigan State's defense has played with a razor-thin margin for error all season, and though the unit is statistically elite -- fifth nationally in yards allowed, 11th in points allowed, 12th in rush defense, 16th in pass defense -- it hasn't done enough to get the Spartans over the hump. Pegged by many to win the Big Ten, the Spartans find themselves at 4-4 following a heartbreaking loss to in-state rival Michigan, and things don't get any easier this week at Wisconsin. To have a chance for a potential season-turning upset, Michigan State needs another big performance from its defense, and Bullough has to lead the way.
The junior has done his part this fall, leading Michigan State and ranking seventh in the Big Ten in tackles (68, 8.5 per game). He has eight more solo tackles than any other Spartans defender and also ranks second on the squad with 6.5 tackles for loss. Bullough has an interception, a forced fumble, four pass breakups and two quarterback hurries. Not surprisingly, Bullough is rounding into an All-Big Ten linebacker, and earlier this week he was named a Butkus Award semifinalist. Michigan State will lean on him to stop a Wisconsin rushing attack that has surged in Big Ten play, averaging 258.3 rush yards per game and 5.9 rush yards per play. Badgers senior running back Montee Ball is heating up, and junior James White has been very good as of late. Michigan State's defensive front seven, led by Bullough, must limit Ball and White and force Wisconsin to win with the pass.