Big Ten: Kyler Elsworth

Big Ten lunch links

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
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How 'bout Nebrasketball? Impressed with what's happening in Lincoln.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
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One final check of the mail before the weekend. Don't forget to follow us on Twitter.

To the inbox ...

Aaron from Minneapolis writes: Gophers fans, by and large, are nothing short of in love with Jerry Kill right now, and understandably so. And yet, a significant raise, contract extension, and renewed university commitment to football facilities seems to have raised the bar for Kill and his staff, and I doubt everyone will remain happy if Minnesota just floats around .500 for the next five years. So, as a less biased observer, what do you think should be the new expectation for the Gophers over the next 3-5 years under Kill?

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Aaron. I always go back to the Glen Mason situation. Minnesota decided that seasons with six to eight wins weren't good enough and parted ways. The program paid the price in the following years until Kill stabilized things. There needs to be a certain level of realism at Minnesota, as the Golden Gophers aren't going to win 10 games every year. But Minnesota also should expect breakthrough seasons every now and then, especially in the seemingly weaker West Division.

Getting to the Big Ten championship game is a reasonable expectation for Kill in the next 4-5 years. At some point, Minnesota must end its Big Ten title drought. But the general expectation should be bowl games every year and winning at least seven games in most years. Fans should always expect big things, but you run into trouble when you think you're something that you're not.


Erik from Charleston, S.C., writes: I don't think the B1G should be too keen on weekday football games anytime soon (save for Labor Day and Thanksgiving). Living in the South, I witnessed billboards eight months in advance for Clemson trying to sell tickets for a Thursday night game. Even here on the coast, which is 200 miles away, they were looking to sell tickets, and Clemson was pretty good last year! About the only place I see this happening is Northwestern, which has the advantage of being near Chicago and it would help if they had Illinois coming to town. Maryland could possibly, too, if their team gets better and people show up from the Washington, D.C., area. Other than that, fan bases tend to concentrate within a few hours of the campus.

Adam Rittenberg: Erik, you're not the only person who has brought up the challenge of mobilizing fan bases for weekday games. I agree it's an important factor for certain programs, especially those not located in or near cities like Penn State. But most of the programs that could benefit most from these games -- Northwestern, Minnesota, Maryland, Rutgers -- are located in metropolitan areas. Indiana has some transportation issues and so does Purdue, but they have to weigh those against the exposure they'd receive from being in the weekday TV windows.

Ohio State doesn't need the midweek exposure, but I still think Ohio Stadium would be packed for a Thursday night game, in part because of its metro location. Clemson doesn't need midweek games, either, largely because of its location. Attendance is an increasing concern in college football. We've written extensively about that. But a lot of Big Ten teams are irrelevant on Saturdays because of other games going on.


Aaron from Syracuse, Kan., writes: Adam, I think Uppercut from Omaha was on a right track, even though Nebraska vs. Kansas wouldn't be the non-con that would get the masses going. Nebraska vs. Missouri, on the other hand, would. Lots of history in that game, including a traveling trophy, it would pit a B1G team against an SEC team, and could be played on a neutral field (Kansas City comes to mind). It should almost be a requirement that a B1G team play a non-con rival every year!

Adam Rittenberg: Here's the problem with that approach, Aaron. When the Big Ten moves to nine league games, beginning in 2016, most teams will play only one major-conference, non-league opponent per year. These series are home-and-homes or would happen at neutral sites. The problem is lack of variety. If Nebraska plays Missouri every year, it never can branch out to play Oregon (as it will in 2016-17) or Oklahoma, a team with which the Huskers have a stronger historical rivalry. I'd rather see variety, especially as Nebraska positions itself for the College Football Playoff. Facing Missouri every now and then is great. An annual series? No, thanks.


Kevin from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: You listed in your B1G spring position breakdown: LB article that six talented MSU linebackers are fighting for three linebacker positions (not including true freshmen). You proceed to state that depth is a bit of a question mark here entering the spring. Depth? Seriously? Experience maybe, but depth?

Adam Rittenberg: Kevin, it depends on how you define depth. To me, experience and depth often go together, unless you have immensely talented players who can't get on the field because the guys in front of them are consistently better. That might be the case at Michigan State, but the bottom line is the Spartans lose two linebackers -- Max Bullough and Denicos Allen -- who combined for 80 career starts. They also lose a top reserve in Kyler Elsworth. The cupboard is hardly empty as I love Ed Davis' potential, and Darien Harris could be the answer at one starting spot. I should have mentioned Riley Bullough as well, as he moves back to linebacker. But in terms of experienced depth, MSU is lacking because Bullough and Allen were so good for so long.


Eric from Florham Park, N.J., writes: Hi, Adam. Regarding Purdue, the best WR they have and wasn't mentioned is B.J. Knauf. He had gotten hurt and was suspended a game or two, but this guy is their best playmaker at WR by far. Just curious why he wasn't mentioned at all.

Adam Rittenberg: Eric, you can't mention every player in these posts, although I noticed Knauf last year and agree he could help Purdue's offense this fall. He had only 14 receptions in eight games, but showed promise as a rusher and a return man. I don't know if I'd call him Purdue's best playmaker at this point, as DeAngelo Yancey was much more productive. But Knauf has a great opportunity to work his way into the rotation this year.

Best B1G games of 2013: No. 2

February, 3, 2014
Feb 3
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We're continuing our countdown of the top-10 games from the Big Ten in 2013. Remember that we're taking into account the stakes in the game, the excitement level, the quality of the performances and the atmosphere.

No. 2: Michigan State 24, Stanford 20, Jan. 1

[+] EnlargeStanford Cardinals
Louis Lopez/CSM/AP ImagesSpartans LB Kyler Elsworth made the biggest stop of his career in the Rose Bowl.
How it went down: We expected a hard-hitting, close game between physical teams at the Rose Bowl. And that's what we got.

Stanford dominated the first quarter, grabbing an early 10-0 lead and moving the ball well on Michigan State's intimidating defense. The Spartans finally got on the board with a Jeremy Langford touchdown run, but the Cardinal answered with a 40-yard interception return for a score by Kevin Anderson with just 2:07 left in the half.

But Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio showed faith in quarterback Connor Cook after that interception by not playing conservatively to close out the half. Cook needed just seven plays to drive the team down for an important touchdown to make it 17-14 at intermission. The second half would belong to the Spartans' defense, which allowed just one field goal the rest of the way. On Stanford's final possession, linebacker Kyler Elsworth made a leaping stop on fullback Ryan Hewitt on fourth-and-1 near midfield. Elsworth started in place of the suspended Max Bullough and showed what a true team effort the Spartans put together by winning defensive MVP honors.

The confetti rained down, Michigan State had its first Rose Bowl title in 26 years, and the Spartans completed one of the best seasons in school history.

Player of the game: Cook had the pick-6 and narrowly avoided a couple of other interceptions. But he also passed for a career-best 332 yards and two touchdowns in a game where offense was hard to come by.

Stat of the game: Michigan State allowed just 159 yards in the final three quarters.

They said it: "I told our guys, 'This is your legacy right here,'" Spartans defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. "I think we'll go down as the greatest team ever to play Michigan State football."

More best games

  • No. 10: Ohio State 31, Wisconsin 24
  • No. 9: Michigan 41, Notre Dame 30
  • No. 8: Arizona State 32, Wisconsin 30
  • No. 7: Ohio State 40, Northwestern 30
  • No. 6: Penn State 43, Michigan 40, 4 OT
  • No. 5: Michigan State 34, Ohio State 24
  • No. 4: Nebraska 27, Northwestern 24
  • No. 3: Clemson 40, Ohio State 35

Season wrap: Michigan State

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
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Rarely have there been better times to be a Michigan State football fan than right now.

The Spartans finished 13-1, won a Big Ten championship and captured their first Rose Bowl berth and victory since 1988. Mark Dantonio's team ended up at No. 3 in the major polls and established itself as a national power. Gone are the "Same Old Spartans" jabs. By giving a big raise to Dantonio and (it appears) keeping star defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi on board, Michigan State has set itself up for continued success, as well. Right now, it's easy being green.

Offensive MVP: Connor Cook and Jeremy Langford (tie). Cook gave the team what it lacked during a series of close losses in 2012: a legitimate passing threat. He threw for 2,755 yards and 22 touchdowns and just six interceptions and was at his best when it mattered most, turning in 300-yard passing days to win MVP honors at both the Big Ten championship game and the Rose Bowl. But we also can't overlook what Langford did in running for 1,422 yards and 18 touchdowns. He carried the offense early and made sure the Spartans had a true balanced attack.

Defensive MVP: There were so many standouts on one of the top defenses in school history. But the star of stars was senior cornerback Darqueze Dennard, who won the Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back. He coined the "No-Fly Zone" for the Spartans' secondary and ensured it would stick by shutting down his side of the field most of the time.

Best moment: Kyler Elsworth's fourth-down tackle against Stanford to clinch the Rose Bowl. It was a poetic moment, since Elsworth was filling in for the shockingly suspended Max Bullough, and it symbolized how the Spartans found the extra inches this year after failing to do so in the recent past. In 2013, they almost always discovered some "Type of Way" to win, as Rich Homie Quan would say.

Worst moment: The 17-13 loss at Notre Dame on Sept. 21 was all that stopped Michigan State from playing for the BCS national title. The "No-Fly Zone" was foiled by some hanky panky as officials called several questionable penalties against the aggressive Spartans defensive backs. Dantonio pulled Cook at the end for Andrew Maxwell, endangering his young quarterback's confidence. But good things came out of that moment, as the coaches decided to stick with Cook after that.

Big Ten's best of 2013

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
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We're starting to wrap up the 2013 Big Ten season, which included the rise of Michigan State to elite status, more accolades for Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, Iowa's mini-renaissance, Northwestern's backslide, Jerry Kill's health-related absence and Minnesota's impressive response, up-and-down seasons from Michigan and Nebraska and much more. The league's national title drought reached its 11th year, but Michigan State brought home a Rose Bowl championship to the frosty Midwest.

To put a bow on the season, here are some Big Ten superlatives:

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio and Connor Cook
Harry How/Getty ImagesMark Dantonio made seemingly all of the right moves in 2013, including sticking with Connor Cook at QB.
Best coach: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State. Dantonio helped the Spartans find the inches that separated them in 2012, when they lost five Big Ten games by a total of 13 points. He made the right calls on offense after a shaky start, and the Spartans ended up winning their final nine games, including their first outright Big Ten title and first Rose Bowl championship in 26 years.

Best player, offense: Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller. No player dominates the scouting report for opposing defenses like the Buckeyes signal-caller, who complemented premier rushing skills with a more accurate arm, despite some late struggles. He won Big Ten MVP honors and league offensive player of the year honors for the second consecutive season, had 3,162 yards of offense and 36 touchdowns (24 pass, 12 rush). Miller led Ohio State to a second straight undefeated regular season and will be back as a senior in 2014.

Best player, defense: Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard. The nation's No. 1 defense had several standouts, but Dennard tops the list after leading the "No Fly Zone" secondary and earning the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back. A first-team All-American, Dennard recorded four interceptions and 10 pass deflections, and repeatedly shut down opposing wide receivers. He was a finalist for the Nagurski Trophy.

Best moment: Many wondered how Michigan State would fare in the Rose Bowl without star middle linebacker and co-captain Max Bullough, suspended a week before the game. Turns out the Spartans were just fine as Kyler Elsworth and Darien Harris filled in well. Fittingly, MSU sealed its victory on a fourth-down stop of Stanford, where Elsworth leaped over the pile to stuff Ryan Hewitt. The play epitomized a team that overcame every obstacle and a defense that slammed the door on the opposition all year long. Elsworth was named Rose Bowl defensive player of the game.

Best rivalry game: Ohio State at Michigan. We haven't been able to say this very often about The Game in recent years, but the Wolverines and Buckeyes provided plenty of drama on Nov. 30 at the Big House. Neither defense had answers for the opposing offense and the teams combined for 83 points, 74 first downs and 1,129 total yards. Michigan went for the win with 32 seconds left, but its 2-point conversion attempt failed and Ohio State survived.

Best play: Nebraska's season hung in the balance Nov. 2 as the Huskers, coming off of a road loss to Minnesota, trailed Northwestern 24-21 with four seconds left at the Wildcats' 49-yard line. Huskers quarterback Ron Kellogg III, the team's third-stringer entering the season, evaded the rush and launched a Hail Mary to the end zone, which freshman wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp caught following a deflection for the winning touchdown. It saved Nebraska's season and possibly coach Bo Pelini's job.

Best coaching decision: Connor Cook didn't do much in a loss to Notre Dame to separate himself from the other Spartans quarterbacks. But after going to Andrew Maxwell for the final drive against the Irish, Dantonio and the staff decided to stick with Cook for the Big Ten season. It gave Cook the confidence he needed to lead MSU's offense to a Big Ten title.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Gallon
AP Photo/Lon HorwedelMichigan WR Jeremy Gallon had a game for the ages against Indiana.
Best individual performance: Michigan wide receiver Jeremy Gallon against Indiana. Sure, the Hoosiers' defense has been abysmal forever, but you just don't see too many wide receivers rack up 369 receiving yards, much less in a league game. Gallon set a Big Ten record for receiving yards and recorded the second-highest total for a receiver in FBS history. He had 14 receptions, two for touchdowns. Quarterback Devin Gardner had a team-record 503 passing yards. Ohio State's Miller had big performances against both Penn State and Iowa, Christian Hackenberg lit up Wisconsin's defense, and Cook recorded his first two career 300-yard passing performances in the Big Ten title game and Rose Bowl.

Best freshman: Penn State's Hackenberg. New Lions coach James Franklin inherits a future superstar under center, as Hackenberg backed up his recruiting hype in his first season. Hackenberg finished third in the Big Ten in passing (246.2 YPG) and threw 20 touchdown passes against 10 interceptions. He completed the season by connecting on 70 percent of his passes for 339 yards and four touchdowns against Wisconsin.

Best newcomer: Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory. The junior-college transfer excited Nebraska fans when he came to Lincoln and left them even happier after his first season. Gregory led the Big Ten with 10.5 sacks and tied for second in tackles for loss with 17. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and triggered Nebraska's improvement on defense down the stretch.

Best new coaching hire: Illinois offensive coordinator Bill Cubit. The Illini improved their win total from two to four this season, but things would have been worse if not for Cubit, who helped Illinois improve from 119th in 2012 to 46th this year. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was the Big Ten's only 3,000-yard passer. Cubit might have saved head coach Tim Beckman's job for another year, as the Illini now look for a similar jump on defense.

Best and worst of the Big Ten bowls

January, 10, 2014
Jan 10
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As we continue to wrap up the 2013 bowl season, let's take a look at some of the best and worst of the Big Ten's seven postseason games:

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesThe Buckeyes couldn't slow down Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd in the Discover Orange Bowl.
Best game: Michigan State's 24-20 win over Stanford in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by VIZIO. The Orange Bowl was a wilder game with more huge momentum swings, but the Spartans won a classic, old-school slugfest. The context also included the 100th edition of the Rose Bowl -- and the last one before the College Football Playoff potentially changes everything -- and Michigan State's first Pasadena appearance since 1988. That adds up to make it the best game of the Big Ten's bunch.

Worst game: You have to wonder if the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl would have picked Michigan ahead of Nebraska had game organizers known that quarterback Devin Gardner wasn't going to play. Probably so, since the attendance was still very good. But the Wolverines were noncompetitive in the desert, needing a touchdown and two-point conversion with 1:15 left just to make the final score 31-14.

Best play: This one's an easy call. On third-and-long from its own 1-yard line, Nebraska opted to throw the ball against Georgia in the third quarter of the Gator Bowl. Tommy Armstrong Jr. found wide receiver Quincy Enunwa, and the result was a 99-yard touchdown pass, the longest play in Cornhuskers and Gator Bowl history.

Best surprise: Minnesota coach Jerry Kill left the press box at halftime of the Texas Bowl against Syracuse and coached the rest of the game from the sideline, something he hadn't done since Sept. 28. Having Kill back on the sidelines gave the Gophers a spark as they erased a halftime deficit, but Syracuse still went on to win the game.

Worst bowl week: Ohio State enjoyed an oceanside hotel at the Discover Orange Bowl, but the buildup to the game was no day at the beach. A stomach bug swirled through the team, leaving several players nauseous and vomiting for about 12 hours each. The school found out that defensive end Noah Spence would be suspended for the game against Clemson and the first two contests of 2014. And cornerback Bradley Roby couldn't recover from his knee injury. It's a wonder Ohio State came so close to winning the game with all that went wrong leading into it.

Worst early celebration: Iowa safety John Lowdermilk intercepted an LSU pass and ran it back 71 yards in the third quarter of the Outback Bowl. But just before he crossed the goal line, Lowdermilk -- who had no defenders around him -- casually dropped the ball out of his right hand. The play was ruled a fumble, and luckily Iowa went on to score the touchdown. But not before some embarrassment for Lowdermilk. “I don’t know what I was doing," he said. "I really regret it and apologize. If I’m lucky enough to get in that situation again, I’ll probably put two hands around the ball and go to the back of the end zone, just to make sure."

Worst late celebration: Michigan State players tried to give coach Mark Dantonio a Gatorade shower near the end of the Rose Bowl. But Dantonio skipped out of the way, and the players' effort was embarrassingly off mark. Dantonio had already shown that he's light on his feet this year with all his dancing to Rich Homie Quan. It's way past time we retire the Gatorade bath, anyway, and come up with something a little more clever.

[+] EnlargeGordon
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesRunning back Melvin Gordon had a big day for the Badgers vs. South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl.
Best poetic ending: Kyler Elsworth filled in for the suspended Max Bullough at middle linebacker for Michigan State. On Stanford's final offensive play, a fourth-and-1 run by fullback Ryan Hewitt, Elsworth launched himself over the pile and stuffed Hewitt. That the fifth-year senior and former walk-on earned Rose Bowl defensive MVP honors spoke volumes about the depth and team-first program Mark Dantonio has built.

Best overlooked achievement: Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and James White both ran for more than 100 yards in the Capital One Bowl against South Carolina and set a FBS record in the process. They finished the season with a combined 3,053 rushing yards, surpassing the top total for a pair of teammates that Nevada’s Cody Fajardo and Stefphon Jefferson established with 3,004 yards in 2012. Gordon and White also were the first teammates to each rush for more than 1,400 yards in the same season. But the Badgers didn't feel much like celebrating as they dropped their fourth straight bowl game.

Wildest finish: The Orange Bowl had more endings than "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." The game looked like it was over when Braxton Miller fumbled on a big hit by Clemson's Bashaud Breeland with 3:12 left. But then the Tigers threw an interception on a questionable call three plays later. Miller then returned the favor with an interception of his own with 1:18 remaining. It was a fitting conclusion to a game that contained all kinds of wild momentum swings.

Worst clock management: This one goes to LSU, against Iowa. The Tigers took possession with 1:42 left, and even with Iowa holding one timeout, they should have been able to run out the clock. But with confusion on the sideline and at quarterback, LSU called its own timeout with eight seconds left and had to punt. When Les Miles and clocks are involved, things are never boring.
A man wearing a newsboy cap approached Kirk Cousins and offered congratulations to the former Michigan State quarterback, who held court with reporters in the Rose Bowl tunnel moments after the Spartans beat Stanford.

Jim Delany wasn't easy to spot in the headgear, and one could argue that the Big Ten commissioner wisely disguised himself on a day that hasn't been kind to his league in recent years. But for the first time in four years, and for just the second time in 14 years, Delany walked out of the Rose Bowl with a smile on his face.

[+] EnlargeConnor Cook
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesConnor Cook and Michigan State gave the Big Ten plenty to celebrate.
For Delany and the Big Ten, the Rose Bowl sits on a pedestal. And after just one Big Ten win in the previous 10 tries, Michigan State's 24-20 triumph in the game's 100th edition was cause for celebration. MSU's victory doesn't dull the pain of the Big Ten's second consecutive 2-5 bowl season, but it certainly helps to prevail in the most important postseason game on the biggest stage against the best opponent.

The Spartans won a team-record 13 games and completed the best season for a Big Ten team in recent memory, finishing No. 3 in the final polls. Nebraska provided the other bright spot, upsetting Georgia in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl thanks to a stingy red-zone defense and several standout performances from seniors.

Elsewhere, the Big Ten felt the familiar postseason sting of what might have been. The league easily could have had a better record in the Florida bowls, but Wisconsin and Ohio State had sloppy performances and Iowa's offense never got on track against LSU.

Wisconsin never punted in the Capital One Bowl against South Carolina and had two 100-yard rushers in Melvin Gordon and James White, but the Badgers committed four turnovers and scored just 17 offensive points. A team that had been so solid through the first 11 games unraveled in the regular-season finale against Penn State and in the bowl, failing to capitalize on a great chance to build on a 17-13 third-quarter lead. Dave Aranda's defense was shredded for the second straight game as South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw accounted for five touchdowns (3 pass, 1 rush, 1 receiving). A decorated Wisconsin senior classes ended 0-4 in Jan. 1 bowls.

Ohio State also finished the season on a surprising losing streak, squandering two second-half leads in a 40-35 loss to Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl. Like Wisconsin, the Buckeyes also were doomed by turnovers, particularly a muffed punt by Corey Brown in the third quarter with a nine-point lead. A depleted Ohio State defense couldn't stop Clemson's big-play receivers, the coaches once again avoided running back Carlos Hyde in crunch time, and a banged-up Braxton Miller committed turnovers on Ohio State's final two possessions.

Injuries and personnel issues were a theme throughout the Big Ten during the bowl season. Wisconsin and Iowa saw their starting quarterbacks hurt during games, while Michigan's top signal-caller, Devin Gardner, showed up in Arizona on crutches and didn't play in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Michigan State overcame the loss of starting middle linebacker and co-captain Max Bullough, as Kyler Elsworth and Darien Harris filled in well. Ohio State played without top cornerback Bradley Roby (injury) and top pass-rusher Noah Spence (suspension).

A little more offense could have put Iowa and Minnesota over the top in their bowl games. Minnesota didn't reach the end zone for three quarters in the Texas Bowl, eventually falling 21-17 to a mediocre Syracuse team. Iowa's only touchdowns came on drives of 1 and 4 yards, as the Hawkeyes had just 11 first downs and 233 total yards against LSU.

It wouldn't have taken much for the Big Ten to post a winning record in the bowls. The league had only one non-competitive performance, coming from Michigan in the Wings Bowl, as the Wolverines ended a disappointing season on a down note. The defense never gave first-time starting quarterback Shane Morris much of a chance, allowing touchdowns on Kansas State's first three possessions. Morris held his own but Michigan didn't reach the end zone until the 58th minute in what proved to be the final game for beleaguered offensive coordinator Al Borges.

Nebraska started New Year's Day on a good note as wide receiver Quincy Enunwa triggered the win with a 99-yard touchdown reception, while defensive linemen Jason Ankrah, Randy Gregory and Thad Randle limited Georgia's offense. Michigan State capped the afternoon by rallying past Stanford behind a suffocating defense and quarterback Connor Cook, who collected another postseason MVP honor and his second straight 300-yard passing performance.

The Spartans boost hope for the future after another Big Ten postseason rife with missed opportunities. The league has another team capable of competing for a national championship.

The playoff arrives in 2014, along with a more palatable Big Ten bowl lineup and most likely more bowl-eligible teams. The Big Ten took a small step in the postseason after a historically bad 2012 campaign, but more progress must be made for the rest of college football to start tipping its cap.

Big Ten all-bowl team

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
9:00
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The Big Ten went 2-5 in bowl games for the second consecutive season, but there were notable performances around the league, even in losing efforts.

Here's a look at ESPN.com's Big Ten all-bowl squad:

OFFENSE

[+] EnlargeConnor Cook
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsConnor Cook threw for 332 yards and two TDs to lead the Spartans to a Rose Bowl win over Stanford.
QB: Connor Cook, Michigan State: He followed his first career 300-yard passing performance in the Big Ten championship with his second in the Rose Bowl against Stanford. Cook overcame an ugly pick-six to pass for a career-high 332 yards and two touchdowns on 22 of 36 attempts. He earned offensive player of the game honors.

RB: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin: The Badgers featured Gordon, who will return next year, in the Capital One Bowl and received good production, as the sophomore rushed for 143 yards on 25 carries. His fumble in the closing minutes allowed South Carolina to run out the clock, but he showed his typical explosiveness as well as durability that should help him in the 2014 season.

RB: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska: Abdullah ended a tremendous junior season with his 11th 100-yard rushing performance as Nebraska upset Georgia in the Gator Bowl. He finished with 122 rush yards and a touchdown on 27 carries.

WR: Quincy Enunwa, Nebraska: Enunwa ended his Huskers career with his best performance, recording a career-high 129 receiving yards and two touchdowns, including a 99-yarder in the third quarter that proved to be the winner. He broke Nebraska's single-season record with 12 touchdowns and earned bowl MVP honors.

WR: Tony Lippett, Michigan State: MSU leaned on its passing game to open up the deep middle, and Lippett repeatedly attacked Stanford's vulnerable secondary. He had five receptions for a career-high 94 yards, and his 25-yard touchdown reception early in the fourth quarter ended up being the winner. His five receptions marked the most by a Spartans receiver in a Rose Bowl.

TE: Maxx Williams, Minnesota: The Gophers' offense wasn't pretty in a disappointing Texas Bowl loss to Syracuse, but Williams again provided a bright spot in a mostly meek passing attack. The freshman led Minnesota with five receptions for 76 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

C: Cole Pensick, Nebraska: Pensick returned to the center spot after playing several games at guard and helped Nebraska to a win. Georgia had only one sack, and the Huskers rushed for 144 yards.

OL: Kyle Costigan, Wisconsin: Costigan and his fellow linemen held up well against Jadeveon Clowney and Co., as the Badgers racked up 293 rush yards on 43 attempts.

OL: Blake Treadwell, Michigan State: The Spartans' co-captain graded out well in the Rose Bowl as MSU had success moving the ball against a strong Stanford defense.

OL: Rob Havenstein, Wisconsin: Like Costigan, Havenstein helped Gordon and James White both eclipse 100 rushing yards against South Carolina, which recorded only one sack in the game.

OL: Jack Allen, Michigan State: Allen was among three Spartans linemen not to allow a sack and aided an offense that racked up 21 first downs and 24 points against Stanford.

DEFENSE

DE: Jason Ankrah, Nebraska: Another Husker who shined in his final college game, Ankrah recorded two sacks, a forced fumble and two quarterback hurries as the line applied good pressure on Georgia backup quarterback Hutson Mason. It marked the first multi-sack performance of Ankrah's career.

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesOhio State's Joey Bosa made plenty of big hits in the Orange Bowl, including this one on Clemson's Tajh Boyd that resulted in a safety after Boyd was called for intentional grounding.
DE: Joey Bosa, Ohio State: If you're looking for reasons to feel optimistic about Ohio State's beleaguered defense, Bosa certainly provides a big one. The freshman made his presence known in the Orange Bowl despite an ankle injury, combining with linebacker Joshua Perry to force a first-quarter safety. He finished with five tackles, including a sack.

DT: Micajah Reynolds, Michigan State: The 307-pound Reynolds clogged the middle and helped Michigan State shut down Stanford's running attack for the final three quarters of the Rose Bowl. He recorded a team-high two tackles for loss and finished with four solo tackles in his final college game.

DT: Thad Randle, Nebraska: Like several Huskers on this list, Randle saved arguably his best performance for his final game. He recorded eight tackles as Nebraska held Georgia to 2.2 yards per rush and only 12 points on six trips inside the red zone.

LB: Kyler Elsworth, Michigan State: Thanks to Elsworth, Max Bullough's absence had little bearing on the Spartans' defense, which limited Stanford to 13 offensive points. Elsworth recorded 1.5 tackles for loss and was the first man in on the decisive fourth-down stop of Stanford's Ryan Hewitt. He earned Rose Bowl defensive player of the game honors.

LB: James Morris, Iowa: Morris ended an excellent senior season with 2.5 tackles for loss, including two sacks, as the defense kept Iowa alive for much of the Outback Bowl against LSU. He finished the season with a team-high eight sacks and eclipsed 400 career tackles.

LB: Denicos Allen, Michigan State: Allen also stepped up in Bullough's absence and sparked Michigan State with 1.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble. He helped Michigan State hold Stanford to only three offensive points in the final three quarters.

CB: Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State: You didn't hear Dennard's name called much during the Rose Bowl because he shut down Stanford's Ty Montgomery and one side of the field. He finished with a tackle for loss and made sure Stanford didn't attack the No Fly Zone in his final game.

CB: Josh Mitchell, Nebraska: Mitchell made two plays to set up Nebraska touchdowns against Georgia: a second-quarter fumble recovery and a third-quarter interception on the first series of the second half. He hadn't had a takeaway all season before the bowl but stepped up at the right time.

S: John Lowdermilk, Iowa: He gave Iowa new life in the third quarter of the Outback Bowl with a 71-yard interception return. It should have been a touchdown, as Lowdermilk dropped the ball short of the goal line, but Iowa scored three plays later to cut LSU's lead in half. Not a bad time for Lowdermilk's first career interception.

S: Cedric Thompson, Minnesota: Thompson recorded a career-high 14 tackles in the Texas Bowl as Minnesota held Syracuse to only 188 pass yards. He also recovered a fumble in Gophers territory in the first quarter as the defense kept Minnesota in the game.

SPECIAL TEAMS

P: Cameron Johnston, Ohio State: Aussie, Aussie, Aussie (Oi Oi Oi). Ohio State's Australian import ended a tremendous debut season with a big performance in the Orange Bowl. He averaged 48.2 yards on five punts, with a long of 63 yards, and placed three punts inside Clemson's 20-yard line, including one downed at the Tigers' 1 that set up an Ohio State safety. There were a lot of good choices here (MSU's Mike Sadler and Minnesota's Peter Mortell also were terrific), which says something about the Big Ten's bowl showing.

K: Matt Wile, Michigan: Not many great choices here, but Wile was the only Big Ten kicker to convert multiple field-goal attempts in a bowl. Wile did a nice job filling in for starter Brendan Gibbons in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and also handled punts and kickoffs.

Returner: Kenzel Doe, Wisconsin: Doe kept Wisconsin's hopes alive in the Capital One Bowl with a 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown after the Badgers had fallen behind by 10 points. It marked Wisconsin's first kickoff return touchdown in a bowl game and its first since David Gilreath's 97-yard runback on the opening play of the Badgers' win against No. 1 Ohio State in 2010.

Poll: Big Ten bowl MVP

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
4:00
PM ET
The Big Ten only won two of its seven postseason games, but there were some outstanding performances during the bowls by league players.

SportsNation

Who was the MVP of Big Ten bowl season?

  •  
    40%
  •  
    12%
  •  
    39%
  •  
    5%
  •  
    4%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,497)

Which one was the best? We'll let you decide out of these five candidates:
  • Michigan State QB Connor Cook: He passed for a career-high 332 yards and two touchdowns against a stingy Stanford defense to earn Rose Bowl MVP honors. Cook did have a pick-six and a couple of other near interceptions, however.
  • Michigan State LB Kyler Elsworth: He filled in more than ably for the suspended Max Bullough, earning defensive MVP honors and sacrificing his body to make the key stop on Stanford's final, fourth-down play.
  • Nebraska WR Quincy Enunwa: He capped off a terrific senior season with a career-best 129 yards and two touchdowns, including a 99-yard touchdown reception, to help beat Georgia in the Gator Bowl.
  • Ohio State QB Braxton Miller: The Buckeyes lost the Orange Bowl to Clemson, but Miller gave it everything he had while taking a savage beating. He threw for 234 yards and two scores and ran for two more touchdowns, though he did have two interceptions.
  • Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon: The Badgers star ran like he did during the first half of the season against South Carolina, piling up 143 yards on 25 carries in the Capital One Bowl loss.

Vote now in our poll.
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PASADENA, Calif. -- For a year, Mark Dantonio challenged his Michigan State team to find the inches that separate good from great and great from special.

Plenty of programs ascend, but most reach a point and then stall. They just can't push through.

Sometimes it's because of talent or coaching or tradition. Maybe it's a penalty in the closing moments of the 2011 Big Ten championship game, or five Big Ten losses by a total of 13 points in 2012. Maybe it's an off-field situation like a campus fight before the 2009 Alamo Bowl or the shocking suspension of a star player a week before the Rose Bowl. Any of these things can leave a program just short of its goals.

But when the inches are located and traversed, it's obvious. You can see it on the faces of current players and coaches, former players, family members, fans and everyone connected to the program.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsMark Dantonio and Michigan State proved that the Spartans can run with any program in the country.
It happened for Michigan State early Wednesday night at the most historic setting in college football. MSU's 24-20 win against Stanford in the 100th edition of the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO marked a final step, a ceiling shattered and a confirmation that the Spartans indeed belonged.

"You've got to find the inches, and more importantly, you've got to believe that you belong there, too," Dantonio said. "You can't second-guess yourself. You have to dream big."

The Spartans can dream bigger than they have in nearly 50 years after recording a team-record 13 wins, including status-affirming triumphs against Ohio State and then Stanford. Fittingly, MSU found the final inches by stuffing Stanford fullback Ryan Hewitt on a fourth-and-1 attempt with 1:46 to play.

Middle linebacker Kyler Elsworth, replacing suspended co-captain and All-Big Ten selection Max Bullough, made the initial hit while leaping over a mass of massive Stanford linemen. Darien Harris, Bullough's other understudy, and end Shilique Calhoun also converged on Hewitt, stopping him inches shy of the marker.

"It's like a movie," defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. "You couldn't put in a better story. We had our leader out and he stepped up, just like I thought."

Elsworth, a senior who had played mostly special teams, started his first game in his final game and earned defensive player of the game honors. He triggered a defense that didn't allow a touchdown after the game's first drive and held Stanford to 71 yards on 27 carries in the final three quarters.

Narduzzi counted only one "misfire" in communication, a major concern without Bullough.

"I couldn't imagine a better stage to play on, a better stage to start my first game in five years," Elsworth said. "This is the way everybody wants to end their career."

That Bullough's absence didn't matter epitomized a Michigan State team unfazed by adversity. The Spartans didn't have a quarterback, a running back or an offensive identity in September. They found one in October. Several questionable pass-interference penalties helped doom them at Notre Dame. The no-fly zone secondary went on to rank second nationally in pass defense efficiency.

When Ohio State erased a 17-0 lead in the Big Ten title game with 24 consecutive points, MSU responded by scoring the final 17. And when Stanford surged to a 10-0 lead Wednesday, the Spartans cleaned up their play and dominated the final three quarters.

"I told our guys, 'This is your legacy right here,'" Narduzzi said. "I think we'll go down as the greatest team ever to play Michigan State football."

No player symbolizes the Spartans' resilience like quarterback Connor Cook. He made some bad throws Wednesday, none worse than an ill-advised screen that Stanford's Kevin Anderson returned to the end zone late in the second quarter. After the pick-six, Cook approached Dantonio.

"Hey, you good?" Dantonio asked.

"I'm fine," Cook responded.

They exchanged a fist bump. On the ensuing series, Cook led MSU downfield for a touchdown 28 seconds before halftime.

"Any time you can end the half on a touchdown, that gives you so much momentum," said Cook, who passed for a career-high 332 yards. "That was like the turning point of the game."

MSU became the first team to rally from a halftime deficit to win the Rose Bowl since Wisconsin in the 2000 game. Back then, the Big Ten more than held its own here, but the league since had gone 1-9 in its most celebrated game.

A system that often didn't place the Big Ten champion in the Rose could be blamed, but the league also lacked teams that proved they belonged. MSU has added its name to a very short list.

"Not only did they get here, but they won," said former Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins, the team's honorary captain. "They beat a good Ohio State team and an outstanding Stanford team to make this happen. They didn't back into it."

CalhounThe national championship, that's the next step for us. The Rose Bowl was this year, but the national championship is definitely next year.

-- Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun
The Spartans are assured of their first top-five finish since 1966. The playoff era dawns next fall, and MSU suddenly can target the Final Four not only in basketball.

Cook and most of the offense returns. The defense should be strong again.

"One of the elite teams throughout college football," wide receiver Macgarrett Kings said. "We've got players, we've got talent, we have the coaches."

MSU plans to keep its coach for the foreseeable future, despite potential overtures from Texas. The Detroit Free Press reports Dantonio soon will be awarded a raise that will put him among the top three Big Ten coaches in salary.

It's big-boy money for the leader of a big-boy program.

"The national championship, that's the next step for us," said Calhoun, who plans to return for his junior season. "The Rose Bowl was this year, but the national championship is definitely next year."

No one put MSU in the national title talk when Dantonio arrived. Former linebacker Greg Jones described a "loose" culture that Dantonio had to rein in.

It was a gradual climb. First bowl appearances, then bowl wins, then a Big Ten title and finally a Rose Bowl championship.

"They made me a believer," Jones said. "They made everybody a believer."

The Spartans found the inches and broke through ceiling. They've reached the next floor.

They don't plan on leaving.
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PASADENA, Calif. -- Michigan State rallied from an early 10-point deficit to dominate the final three quarters against Stanford in the 100th edition of the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO.

Here's a quick recap of the Spartans' victory.

It was over when: Middle linebacker Kyler Elsworth, replacing the suspended Max Bullough, stuffed Stanford fullback Ryan Hewitt (along with help from Shilique Calhoun and others) on fourth and-1 with 1:34 left and the ball at Stanford's 34-yard line. Stanford had used its final timeout, so Michigan State ran out the clock.

Game ball goes to: MSU quarterback Connor Cook. He had several heart-stopping throws, including one of the worst pick-sixes you'll ever see in the second quarter. But Cook once again didn't let a mistake faze him, and he displayed his tremendous skill in attacking Stanford's secondary. He recorded his second consecutive career-high passing performance (332 yards) on his second mega stage, completing 22 of 36 attempts with two touchdowns. His first two career 300-yard passing performances come in the Big Ten championship game and the Rose Bowl. Not too shabby.

Stat of the game: Stanford recorded a 43-yard pass to Michael Rector on the game's second play from scrimmage and a 47-yard Tyler Gaffney rush late in the first quarter. The Cardinal had a 51-yard pass play in the third quarter. Those three plays accounted for 141 of Stanford's 305 total yards. The Cardinal ran only nine plays for 23 yards in the second quarter, excluding a kneel-down on the final play of the half.

Stat of the game II: Michigan State became the first team to rally from a halftime deficit to win a Rose Bowl since the 2000 game, when Wisconsin erased a 9-3 Stanford lead and won 17-9 behind Ron Dayne.

What Stanford learned: The Cardinal still struggle to beat teams that can match them physically, especially up front. All those big linemen and creative formations didn't make much difference against a swarming Michigan State defense that surrendered only 11 first downs and 305 yards (mostly on three plays). Stanford learned that it wasn't a true national title contender, losing three games to teams that mirrored its style of play. And while David Shaw remains an elite coach, his conservative play calls seemed to cost his team down the stretch.

What Michigan State learned: The Spartans are an elite program led by an elite coach in Mark Dantonio and an elite staff. They have an elite quarterback in Cook. They can overcome the loss of an elite player in Bullough. Michigan State learned it can play on the biggest stages with the best teams in the country and beat them with power football. The Spartans never went off track, even after a shaky start, and made enough plays in all three phases to record one of the biggest wins in program history.
LOS ANGELES -- The 100th edition of the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO is finally here, as No. 4 Michigan State (12-1) takes on No. 5 Stanford (11-2).

Let's dive in ...

WHO TO WATCH: Michigan State linebackers Kyler Elsworth and Darien Harris. The biggest personnel issue entering the game is how the Spartans replace All-Big Ten middle linebacker and co-captain Max Bullough, who was suspended last week and didn't travel with the team. Elsworth, a senior used mostly on special teams, likely will get the start, although Harris also will play. Bullough brilliantly handled the play calls and much of the communication on defense, so his leadership will be missed. Stanford presents a lot of different looks with its offensive line groupings, so Elsworth and Harris will need to make sure their teammates are in the right places. There are plenty of veteran, multiyear starters throughout Michigan State's defense who also need to step up in Bullough's absence.

WHAT TO WATCH: The quarterbacks. Both defenses are extremely sound and both teams love to run the ball, but quarterback play often makes the difference in a game that looks pretty close on paper. Stanford's Kevin Hogan has been here before, helping the Cardinal to a win in the 2013 Rose Bowl. He had some ups and downs this season but comes off of a strong performance (277 pass yards on just 12 completions, 1 TD) in the Pac-12 championship game against Arizona State. Michigan State's Connor Cook is a stranger to the Rose Bowl stage but looked comfortable in the Big Ten championship game against Ohio State, recording a career-high 304 pass yards and three touchdowns and winning MVP honors. Both defenses can take away the opposing run games, so which quarterback makes clutch throws and limits mistakes?

WHY TO WATCH: If you really need a reason, pick another sport. It's the 100th Rose Bowl featuring two top-five teams with similar hard-hitting styles, excellent coaches and tremendous defenses. Stanford entered the season with national championship aspirations and can reaffirm what might have been with a second consecutive Rose Bowl win in its fourth straight BCS bowl appearance. Michigan State makes its first trip to Pasadena in 26 years and carries the banner of a beleaguered Big Ten Conference that has dropped nine of the past 10 Rose Bowls. A victory would cap Michigan State's most successful season since the back-to-back national title teams in 1965-66. The Rose Bowl enters the playoff rotation next fall, so the traditional Pac-12 versus Big Ten matchup won't be guaranteed.

PREDICTION: Stanford 21, Michigan State 17. Stanford's BCS bowl experience pays off as the Cardinal limit mistakes and force some Michigan State turnovers to win a hard-hitting nail-biter.

Rose Bowl notes from MSU's Dantonio

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
2:30
PM ET
LOS ANGELES -- The Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO is barely 48 hours away, and Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio held his final pregame news conference Monday morning.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesMark Dantonio says the Big Ten's poor start to bowl season won't affect his team.
Here are some notes from Dantonio (and one from athletic director Mark Hollis):

  • Senior Kyler Elsworth should start at middle linebacker in place of the suspended Max Bullough, although Darien Harris also will play a fair amount. Dantonio said both will have the same responsibilities Bullough had with play calls and checks at the line. Elsworth, who was an elite high school wrestler, bench-presses about 400 pounds and has "great ball skills" as he played wide receiver in high school. Harris, who played running back in high school, brings good speed to the middle.
  • Dantonio said the Big Ten's poor start to bowl season doesn't add any pressure for Michigan State. He noted that while everybody obsesses about conference vs. conference, it really comes down to team vs. team matchups. "In the end, it's going to be Michigan State's deal," he said. "We represent the Big Ten, we carry the banner of the Big Ten in here, but in the end it's going to be Michigan State wins or loses, period. We're going to have to stand alone on that."
  • Dantonio again had high praise for quarterback Andrew Maxwell, who started all 13 games in 2012 and the opener this season before moving to a reserve role behind Connor Cook. "It's been tough, and he could have made things difficult here," Dantonio said, "but he chose this path, and that path has allowed us to flourish as a football team."
  • Michigan State has had no curfew issues or other disciplinary infractions leading into the game, but Dantonio reiterated that his team must handle success and being on the big stage the right way. Stanford appears in its fourth consecutive BCS bowl, while no Michigan State players were alive the last time the Spartans played in the Rose Bowl. "They've played in this type of environment with this type of media coverage," Dantonio said of Stanford. "Our guys, we're sort of on a new threshold here."
  • Dantonio on Sunday tweeted a link to a video called "The Spartan Process" that outlines MSU's path to the Rose Bowl, not just this year but in previous seasons. He showed it to the players this past week as a reminder of those who helped the program reach this point. "When you saw a picture of [former running back] Javon Ringer, I hope everybody felt a part of that, or a Kirk Cousins photo," Dantonio said. "They might not share in this physically, but they're going to share in this and be able to identify with what we do." Cousins, the Spartans' quarterback from 2008-11, will serve as the team's honorary captain.
  • Hollis said Michigan State will have more than 40,000 fans at Wednesday's game, and possibly more than 50,000. "I would not be surprised if we far exceed 50 percent of the stadium," Hollis said. "Estimates have been well over 50,000, so we believe it's going to be a home field for us, even though we're three time zones away."
LOS ANGELES -- Michigan State's defense is preparing vigorously for Stanford's offense as well as for life without its leader, middle linebacker Max Bullough.

Despite Bullough's shocking suspension, the standards haven't changed for the "Spartan Dawgs," who, as linebacker Denicos Allen noted Sunday, want to show everyone why they're the nation's No. 1 defense.

[+] EnlargeMax Bullough
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsHow will Michigan State's defense adjust without Max Bullough?
But before the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO, MSU's defenders might want to set aside some time to examine Stanford's defense, specifically the way the unit adjusted without one of its best players. The Cardinal lost defensive end Ben Gardner to a season-ending torn pectoral muscle in late October.

Like Bullough, Gardner is a captain and one of the defense's top performers, racking up 4.5 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss and eight quarterback hits, the most on the team at the time. He's so good that he earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors despite missing Stanford's final five games.

Twelve days after Gardner's injury, Stanford held Oregon's dynamic offense scoreless for three quarters in a 26-20 win. The Cardinal surrendered just 62 rush yards and 312 total yards and recorded three sacks.

Stanford's defensive statistics without Gardner weren't dramatically different than they were with Gardner. The Cardinal allowed less than 75 rush yards in four of the final five games and finished with an outstanding effort against Arizona State's explosive offense in the Pac-12 championship. Arizona State had just 14 points and 311 yards, well below its season averages (41.0 ppg, 460.8 ypg).

"You feel for your teammates, but at the same time, you have to keep your vision on what the team goal is," Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov said. "You recognize that, unfortunately, somebody is gone, is no longer an active participant, but you have to keep moving forward.

"Whenever you lose someone as talented and as important a leader and integrated into your team, as I'm sure Max was and Ben [are], you have to find ways to, not replace them, but work and make an adaptation."

The circumstances of the losses are different -- Gardner was injured and remains with his teammates for the Rose Bowl; Bullough was suspended right before the team left for California and will not attend the game. But the realities are the same: There's shock and disappointment, and then there's another tough game to play.

"I kept a coldblooded approach," Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy said, "and kept moving forward and knew there were still games to be played and work to be done. Then, at the senior banquet, [Gardner] spoke and got everyone choked up a little bit and then it was like, oh man.

"Other than that, I kept moving forward."

Stanford benefited from replacing Garnder with Henry Anderson, a senior who had earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2012. Anderson suffered a knee injury in September but returned for the Oregon showdown, Stanford's first game without Gardner.

Michigan State's Kyler Elsworth isn't as decorated as Anderson, but the fifth-year senior who could start in Bullough's place brings experience and familiarity to the role. He's not Bullough in terms of system knowledge and communication -- no one is -- but he understands the scheme and the personnel around him.

"We've won because of chemistry here," Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said Sunday. "There's an opportunity for somebody else to lead."

Elsworth, primarily a special-teams player during his career, embraces that opportunity "ten-fold."

"[Stanford] lost a player, and that's an adverse situation, that's something you've got to overcome," Elsworth said. "Our team has been doing that for a while now."

He mentioned safety RJ Williamson stepping in for safety Isaiah Lewis because of injury and a targeting ejection against Northwestern, and the way the coaching staff handled Dantonio's health-related absence during the 2010 season.

"There's countless times where our team has rallied around everybody," Elsworth said, "stepped up and came into the game with the mind-set that, 'Hey, no matter what is thrown at us, we can handle it.'

"This is no different. It's another curveball. Guys have stepped up their leadership, I'm stepping up my leadership, and we're very prepared for this game."
LOS ANGELES -- Michigan State's Rose Bowl media day was supposed to feature Max Bullough sitting atop one of the interview podiums set aside for star players.

Instead, Bullough's younger brother, Riley, had to address a tough situation for the first family of Michigan State football while looking ahead to the team's matchup against Stanford. Michigan State announced late last Wednesday that Max Bullough, an All-Big Ten selection and two-time captain, had been suspended for an unspecified violation of team rules. Max has remained in contact with his brother, the rest of his teammates and coaches like defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, but he won't attend the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO, Riley said.

"He's disappointed, but he's also positive at the same time," Riley Bullough said. "He's a team guy, he loves all of us, we love him, so he'll definitely be watching the game. He'll be excited and rooting for us."

The team learned of Max's suspension Wednesday before it departed campus for California, but Riley said the Bullough family got the bad news several days earlier. Riley and Max have exchanged text messages throughout the week, as Max wants to keep tabs on Michigan State's preparation.

Both Riley and Max are third-generation Spartans. Their father, Shane, played linebacker from 1983-86, and their grandfather, Hank, was a guard on MSU's 1953 Rose Bowl team and later served as a Spartans assistant coach.

"It's been tough," Riley said. "But he's got to move past it, we've got to move past it and I think we have, basically."

Often described as the computer of Michigan State's defense, Max handled all the calls and helped with alignment before plays. Veteran defenders like outside linebacker Denicos Allen and cornerback Darqueze Dennard said communication, while different without Max, shouldn't be a problem against Stanford.

Senior Kyler Elsworth likely will start at middle linebacker in place of Max. Riley, who backed up his brother for much of spring practice before shifting to running back, returned to linebacker before the Big Ten title game and has worked there throughout bowl prep.

"I've played all three linebacker positions, so I haven't really stuck in one position," Riley said. "That's where it is right now. I'm kind of moving around, trying to feel my way back to the defensive side and get comfortable with it."

Max has already started his preparations for April's NFL draft, but he continues to advise his brother and other teammates.

"It's been tough," Riley said, "but I think our team's responded very well."

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