NCF Nation: Riley Bullough

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State had the most eventful signing day of any Big Ten team, complete with the Malik McDowell melodrama and Darius Slade's move to Ohio State. The Spartans also signed quite possibly coach Mark Dantonio's best class at the school. The defending Big Ten and Rose Bowl champions landed several standout defenders, a big running back and several stout linemen.

Dantonio was unable to discuss McDowell on Wednesday because the coveted defensive tackle hadn't sent in his national letter of intent, but the Spartans coach sat down with ESPN.com to review the rest of the 2014 class.

What stands out to you most about this class?

Mark Dantonio: This is an excellent class from top to bottom in terms of the quality of players. We have tremendous people in this class. I've seen it by how they interact with each other. There's a reason they've been so successful. You see their character.

Have you seen the effects of last season on this class, or will it not be until 2015?

MD: We did. There were some guys obviously who were [committed] as we entered the season. If you look at Michigan State football, we've been on the rise, maybe took a small step back [in 2012] but it's been a program right there, on the threshold of a championship. This year, we win the championship and recruiting gained momentum as we gained momentum on the football field. As it came down to the end, we were on some very highly recruited guys. We got some, some we didn't and that's OK. I appreciate their interest, but people make their decisions based on what's best for them, and again, I just hope that everybody can celebrate the day.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesWinning the Rose Bowl has resulted in a recruiting boost for Mark Dantonio and Michigan State.
Are you encountering players who are further along in their development now than a few years ago?

MD: I think so, but the longer you're at a place, the deeper you go in the recruiting process in terms of how long you've looked at a guy. Recruiting has become very accelerated, and there are certain individuals you see as a sophomore, and you've watched them grow. Guys like Montae Nicholson, who I thought was a national recruit but we were on him early, we knew about him, had relationships with he and his family. A big-time football player. Brian Allen is another guy who's an outstanding football player. I don't know what his record is as a wrestler. He was 48-0 last year, I think maybe he's lost once this year, so he's outstanding with leverage and very athletic. We've got guys who fit our needs, but they're also high-level players. Craig Evans, Enoch Smith it doesn't take long to watch them and you know as a football team, you want them.

Are you seeing the effects of what you've done on defense in recruiting?

MD: We are. We've been the top defense in this conference for the past three years. I think we're one of two teams in the nation that have been in the top five in the four major categories for the last three years. You see collectively, people want to be a part of that. They see guys have an opportunity to go to the NFL from our defense. They're succeeding, they're impacting the team. And on the offensive side, we've got some outstanding guys as well.

[Gerald] Owens, the big back, where does he fit into what you do?

MD: He's like T.J. Duckett. He reminds me of T.J. a lot. I'd watch his film, and then I'd put on T.J.'s film when I was here in the past. You'd see very similar running styles.

You have another Bullough in Byron. What does he bring at the same position as his brothers?

MD: When you have guys that have played for you before, like Max and Riley and now you have Byron, you have Jack Allen and now you have Brian Allen, it sends a message to me that what we're doing here is in the best interest of their sons. It tells a story that what we are doing is being done the correct way. We're not just being good football players and developing them, but we're developing the person, too. It was the same thing when we had Brent Celek and we got Garrett Celek. When we have families and they send their next son here, it's a statement.

What were your big needs in the class?

MD: Linebacker was a need because we lost some great linebackers this year. Defensive line's a need as well, just because we lost really three good inside players. I think we addressed that with three outstanding players in David Beedle and Enoch Smith and Craig Evans. David is a physical guy, 6-4 plus, 290 [pounds], on a state champion team at Clarkson High School. He has a presence and he's instinctive. For a high school kid to bench-press 225 [pounds] 30 times, it's pretty impressive.

You had a couple of guys already enrolled. Are they in better shape to contribute earlier?

MD: Yeah. Matt Sokol comes in as a tight end. He was a quarterback throughout high school and played a little bit of tight end. He's been a mismatch guy. He's 6-4, 6-5. He's going to develop. And Chris Frey is a very instinctive guy. You see him playing fullback, tailback, linebacker, corner on his high school team. He can take a game over. High-energy guy. Reminds me a lot of Chris Spielman when I was at Ohio State. He's just a football player, and he can run, a powerful, explosive guy.

What's the one theme that stands out most about this class?

MD: This group was very connected. That's through social media and everything else, even some of the guys who may have opted to go other places at the end, they were connected. This is an outstanding class, maybe our best class in seven years. That's a huge statement, and I don't mean to disrespect our other classes. Time will tell. You come in a lamb and you've got to go out a lion. That's how it is.
Bill Belton Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsBill Belton's emergence has been a major boost for the Penn State offense.
The Big Ten returned seven of its top 10 rushers from the 2012 season, so it seemed likely that familiar names would fill this year's rushing chart. It hasn't worked out like that.

Only two players ranked in last year's top 10 -- Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and Iowa's Mark Weisman -- are among the league's current top 10 ground gainers. The list features five backs who didn't enter the season as starters but have stepped up for injured teammates or simply because they were the best options. Today's poll question asks: Which Big Ten running back has been the biggest surprise so far this season?

You won't see Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon on the list because we don't consider his success surprising at all.

Here are the candidates, listed alphabetically:

Bill Belton, Penn State (Big Ten rushing rank: 7): Lions fans waiting for Belton to blossom are finally getting their wish. Zach Zwinak led Penn State's rushing attack in 2012 with 1,000 rush yards on 203 carries. But Zwinak's fumbling issues created an opening for Belton, who has cashed in during Big Ten play. Belton recorded the decisive fourth-down run in Penn State's four-overtime win against Michigan, quietly had a nice game against Ohio State and last week went for 201 yards and a touchdown in an overtime win against Illinois, the Lions' first 200-yard rushing performance since Larry Johnson in 2002.

SportsNation

Which Big Ten running back has been the biggest surprise so far this season?

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    41%
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    24%
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    4%
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    4%
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    27%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,514)

David Cobb, Minnesota (Big Ten rushing rank: 5): The Gophers had every intention of establishing their ground game this season, but they pegged Donnell Kirkwood to do most of the heavy lifting. But an ankle injury in the opener slowed Kirkwood and Cobb, who had only one carry last season as a sophomore, is blossoming in a featured role. He established himself with 125 yards and two touchdowns in a non-league win against San Jose State. During Minnesota's current three-game Big Ten win streak, Cobb has three 100-yard rushing performances and 429 total yards on 80 carries.

Tevin Coleman, Indiana (Big Ten rushing rank: 4): After pushing Stephen Houston throughout the offseason, Coleman has emerged as one of many dangerous weapons on Indiana's offense. He has scored in every game this season, averaged 6.4 yards per carry and 131.6 all-purpose yards per game. Primarily a big-play run threat, Coleman also has contributed as a receiver (18 receptions, 164 yards) and as a kick returner.

Treyvon Green, Northwestern (Big Ten rushing rank: 9): Green has been a bright spot for an injury-plagued and inconsistent Wildcats offense this season. Top back Venric Mark has played only one full game because of injuries, but Green has filled the void with 612 rush yards and eight touchdowns on only 95 carries. Green has three 100-yard rushing efforts, including last Saturday at Nebraska, where he gashed the Huskers for 149 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries.

Jeremy Langford, Michigan State (Big Ten rushing rank: 6): The Spartans entered the season with a pretty desperate situation at running back. They had moved backup middle linebacker Riley Bullough to the position in spring practice, and seemed likely to use several true freshmen at the position. But Langford took charge Oct. 12 against Indiana, racking up 109 rush yards and three touchdowns. He has eclipsed 100 yards on the ground in each of the past four games, scoring six touchdowns during the span. Along with quarterback Connor Cook and an improved offensive line, Langford is a big reason for the offense's turnaround.

Now it's time to vote. Let us know who is the Big Ten's surprise back.

Big Ten predictions: Week 2

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
8:02
AM ET
We went a combined 23-1 in our first week of predictions, so let's see if we can keep that robust pace going. And how will our Week 2 guest picker fare?

Let's get to it:

Eastern Michigan at Penn State

Brian Bennett: Not much to see here, as Eastern Michigan has long been a Big Ten sacrificial lamb. This is a good opportunity for Christian Hackenberg to work out some kinks, and the kid throws three TD passes. ... Penn State 35, Eastern Michigan 9.

Adam Rittenberg: The Hackenberg-Allen Robinson connection will link up for two touchdowns, and Penn State coach Bill O'Brien will keep to his word and call better plays, sparking the run game to 175 yards and two scores. Lions roll. ... Penn State 31, Eastern Michigan 10

Indiana State at Purdue

Adam Rittenberg: Rob Henry gets the confidence boost he needs and Purdue fixes its communication issues on offense as running back Akeem Hunt goes for 135 yards and two touchdowns. The Boilers come out fast and get a first-quarter forced fumble from big Bruce Gaston. ... Purdue 38, Indiana State 14

Brian Bennett: The FCS just had a great weekend, so maybe we should take the three Big Ten games against FCS opponents seriously on Saturday. Nah. A team that just got done giving up 73 points to Indiana is just what the sputtering Purdue offense needs. ... Purdue 45, Indiana State 17.

Missouri State at Iowa

Brian Bennett: Iowa finally snaps its seven-game losing streak, using its superior beef to run for 200 yards, and getting a special-teams score. ... Iowa 31, Missouri State 13.

Adam Rittenberg: Yeah, this game has Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock written all over it. The tandem combines for three rushing touchdowns and Jake Rudock adds two more through the air to C.J. Fiedorowicz and Kevonte Martin-Manley. ... Iowa 38, Missouri State 10

Tennessee Tech at Wisconsin

Adam Rittenberg: James White rushing touchdown, Melvin Gordon rushing touchdown, Corey Clement rushing touchdown. Rinse and repeat. ... Wisconsin 63, Tennessee Tech 3

Brian Bennett: Yawn. Are we done with the FCS games yet? ... Wisconsin 56, Tennessee Tech 7.

South Florida at Michigan State

Brian Bennett: If the Spartans can't move the ball against a Bulls team that gave up 53 points to McNeese State last week, they've got even bigger problems than we realized. Three different QBs play for MSU, and two of them throw for TDs. ... Michigan State 30, South Florida 10.

Adam Rittenberg: I agree that Michigan State can't be much worse on offense than it was in the opener and will move the ball better, especially on the ground. Jeremy Langford and Riley Bullough both reach the end zone, and Tyler O'Connor makes the quarterback race a little more interesting. ... Michigan State 34, South Florida 3

Cincinnati at Illinois

Adam Rittenberg: The Illini start quickly and jump ahead on a Nathan Scheelhaase touchdown pass to Josh Ferguson. But reality begins to set in as a superior Cincinnati team takes charge behind its athletic defense. ... Cincinnati 28, Illinois 17

Brian Bennett: Illinois will put up a more respectable showing against the Bearcats than Purdue did. Scheelhaase throws for 300 yards and the game is close until midway through the third quarter. But there's just too much Munchie Legaux (I can't help myself). ... Cincinnati 42, Illinois 27.

San Diego State at Ohio State

Brian Bennett: I was interested in this game until San Diego State gagged against Eastern Illinois. The Buckeyes turn in a better overall effort than in Week 1, and Bradley Roby has a pick in his first game back. ... Ohio State 45, San Diego State 20.

Adam Rittenberg: My concern is Ohio State might be less interested than you are, BB. The Buckeyes overcome a sluggish start as Braxton Miller fires two second-quarter touchdown passes. Freshman Dontre Wilson scores his first touchdown for the Scarlet and Gray. ... Ohio State 41, San Diego State 13

Southern Miss at Nebraska

Adam Rittenberg: After a passionate postgame speech last week, emerging leader Ameer Abdullah takes matters into his own hands. The Huskers running back piles up 200 yards and three touchdowns. The defense has its typical hiccups early before settling down. ... Nebraska 42, Southern Miss 17

Brian Bennett: I expect -- and would hope -- that the Nebraska offense comes out mad after not finishing key drives last week. The Huskers go for the jugular this week behind Taylor Martinez's five total TDs, and the defense makes slight improvements. ... Nebraska 49, Southern Miss 24.

Navy at Indiana

Brian Bennett: It's never easy or fun to play Navy, but the Hoosiers got some experience against the option last year. The Midshipmen will shorten the game and frustrate the IU offense some, but Nate Sudfeld throws a fourth-quarter TD pass to Kofi Hughes to seal it. ... Indiana 28, Navy 20.


Adam Rittenberg: Sudfeld and the Hoosiers will finish drives better than they did last year against Navy, as Tevin Coleman twice reaches the end zone. IU forces a key third-quarter fumble and pulls away midway through the fourth quarter. Tre Roberson sees more field time in this one. ... Indiana 34, Navy 23

Syracuse at Northwestern

Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern's injury issues are worth monitoring, but the Wildcats have enough weapons on offense to outscore a Syracuse team that didn't impress me much last week against Penn State. Trevor Siemian connects with Dan Vitale on two touchdowns, and the defense comes up big again with a fourth-quarter takeaway. ... Northwestern 28, Syracuse 20

Brian Bennett: Hard to know what to expect from Northwestern because of the iffy status of both Venric Mark and Kain Colter. But Syracuse looked limited offensively last week, and I think Siemian rescues the 'Cats once again. ... Northwestern 31, Syracuse 24.

Minnesota at New Mexico State

Brian Bennett: It was a tough call between Ann Arbor and Las Cruces for the "GameDay" crew this week -- seriously, what is Minnesota doing here? Are the Gophers just big "Breaking Bad" fans who are planning a side trip to Albuquerque? Anyway, it's close for a half but the defense comes up with another score to send the Aggies to Belize. ... Minnesota 37, New Mexico State 20.

Adam Rittenberg: Maybe the Gophers can take a side trip to Roswell and check out the UFOs. Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson will provide a few identified flying objects in this one, firing two touchdown passes in the second half. It's not a pretty game, but it's a win as Minnesota improves to 2-0. ... Minnesota 34, New Mexico State 21

Notre Dame at Michigan

Adam Rittenberg: Can't wait to witness this one under the lights at the Grande Casa. Although Michigan struggles early with Notre Dame's fearsome defensive front, the offense settles down late as Devin Gardner and Jeremy Gallon connect for two second-half touchdowns, including the game-winner in the final minutes. Tommy Rees' mastery of Michigan ends with two second-half interceptions. ... Michigan 24, Notre Dame 21

Brian Bennett: I just keep remembering how Michigan mostly outplayed Notre Dame last year except for all those picks, and I don't think Gardner will make the same mistakes. Gardner finds Gallon for a pair of scores, and Blake Countess intercepts Tommy Rees on Notre Dame's final series to turn the lights out on the Irish. ...Michigan 27, Notre Dame 24.

Now it's time to hear from our guest picker. As we announced last week, we'll be choosing one fan/loyal blog reader each week to try his or her hand at outsmarting us. There's nothing but pride and some extremely limited fame at stake. If you're interested in participating, contact us here and here. Include your full name (real names, please) and hometown and a brief description why you should be that week's guest picker. Please also include "GUEST PICKS" in all caps somewhere in your email so we can find them easily.

The response so far has been overwhelming. This week's guest picker is Nick Schmit from West Des Moines, Iowa. The floor is yours, Nick:
"As a graduate of the University of Iowa, I have been following the conference and teams for as long as I can remember. I have plenty of insight and knowledge to offer. Besides, my wife is due with our first daughter on 10/19 (Iowa vs. OSU). Other than her birth, I need something to be excited about in what looks to be another long, depressing, mediocre (or worse) season for the Hawks."

Nick's picks:


Penn State 28, Eastern Michigan 13
Purdue 28, Indiana State 21
Iowa 34, Missouri State 10
Wisconsin 70, Tennessee Tech 3
Michigan State 35, South Florida 10
Cincinnati 31, Illinois 21
Ohio State 42, San Diego State 6
Nebraska 51, Southern Miss 17
Indiana 41, Navy 31
Northwestern 42, Syracuse 20
Minnesota 33, New Mexico State 21
Notre Dame 27, Michigan 24


SEASON RECORDS

Brian Bennett: 12-0
Adam Rittenberg: 11-1
Guest picker: 9-3

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Wearing big snowsuits to deal with the harsh Michigan weather, Max Bullough and his family -- three siblings and two parents -- piled into the car one winter to hunt for a Christmas tree.

Max waited for his chance as they searched. When he had an opening, he tackled his younger brother, Riley. Riley tackled his younger sister, Holly. Then they all piled on the third child, Byron.

Welcome to life with the Bulloughs, where everything is competitive and athletic. Max going on a tackling spree is just as likely with his family -- where it is mostly playful -- as it is at Michigan State, where he is the Spartans’ top linebacker and emotional core.

“He would always tackle everyone,” Holly said. “... Really playfully, though. Ever since I could remember, they would be playing football and tackling each other, everywhere they went.”

In the Bullough backyard as kids or in the basement on their knees playing knee football, it was the same.

Holly, the youngest and already a high school state champion in Michigan in the 800 and 1,600 meters as a sophomore at St. Francis in Traverse City would snap the ball to the quarterback, Riley, the second child and now a redshirt freshman at Michigan State. He’d then look for Byron, now a senior at St. Francis and a MSU commit. Defending Byron would be Max, the oldest.

In the Bullough family, now three generations strong at Michigan State and four children deep as the kids of Shane and LeeAnn Bullough, one thing is clear.

Max Bullough is boss. His family even has a name for him: Tyrant. LeeAnn coined the nickname when Max was a child because, well, he was a bit demanding.

“You don’t tell Max what to do,” LeeAnn said. “He’ll do what he wants to do in his own time. When he went off to college, Shane and I were like, ‘Phew, I can’t wait for the coaches to have to deal with him."

“But he’s successful because of that, too. That’s just who he is.”

[+] EnlargeMax Bullough
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsMax Bullough was nicknamed Tyrant by his family, which has deep roots at Michigan State.
It has worked at Michigan State. Bullough became one of the Big Ten’s top linebackers with 111 tackles and was a Spartans captain last season. At home, Byron and Holly would follow Max everywhere, listening to everything he said.

Max’s personality led to some yelling when the Bulloughs were younger. Riley, the antithesis of Max as an aspiring musician and family joke-teller, learned how to agitate his brother. He’d fake being injured -- crying after Max threw a rock at him or if Max was on his neck when they wrestled -- to see Max get yelled at.

Only later would Shane and LeeAnn discover Riley was faking the whole time.

“He got yelled at,” Riley said, laughing at the memory. “I did that all the time.”

The relationship between the brothers, which was never bad, matured after Max left for Michigan State. The instigating stopped -- except when Max returned to Traverse City from Michigan State and Riley convinced LeeAnn to make chicken for dinner because he knew Max was sick of his staple meal from East Lansing.

Riley became the oldest child in the house. Byron took Max’s room. Riley took Max’s literal seat at one head of the Bullough dinner table, an honor reserved for the eldest Bullough child at home -- a tradition Max started.

Riley and Max talked more. Max texted Riley to get high school updates. Riley asked about Michigan State. When Riley committed to MSU, the relationship strengthened even more.

They’d play the same position -- linebacker -- but they would also be with each other all the time, eventually living together this year.

“He’s my best friend,” Max said. “He’s someone I obviously have gone through my whole life with and he can say the same about me. We act a little more like brothers than best friends, but it is all with good intentions.

“I’m his number one fan out there.”

Now, Max will actually watch him. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio moved Riley to tailback in the spring. He liked his toughness. His ability to gain extra yards. Being a Bullough, Dantonio knew Riley would provide that at linebacker or tailback.

An idea of the move percolated first in a Michigan State coaches meeting, when they kicked around the idea of moving Riley to tailback. His linebackers coach, Mike Tressel, knew Riley had ball skills from linebacker drills. Dantonio had the idea stuck in his head after using Riley to simulate Iowa’s Mark Weisman to prepare for the Hawkeyes last season. Dantonio’s prior time at MSU also helped. Then, the Spartans moved a little-used linebacker named T.J. Duckett to tailback.

“With two weeks left to go in spring, I just walked in and said, ‘We’re moving him over there. He’ll play both sides today,’ “ Dantonio said. “We just about wore him out.”

Tressel knew the move would stick when Dantonio brought it up. Tressel knew Riley could catch. What surprised Tressel was Riley’s natural vision and instincts.

By the beginning of preseason, Riley became Michigan State’s top running back on the depth chart, so the possibility of a Bullough starting at two of the premier positions at Michigan State at the same time is a definite possibility. Riley always liked offense better. He just never thought he’d get a shot at it.

The fifth and sixth members of the Bullough family who played football at Michigan State might end up starting at the same time.

“How many people get to do that, where they would both start and pay quite a bit,” said Shane, a MSU captain in 1986. “On both sides of the ball. We always joked it would be hard for us to get a restroom break in games this fall.

“But it’d be great.”

Max doing the hitting. Riley being tackled. A Bullough on the field. Some things with the Bulloughs don’t change.
The Big Ten will feature a record 18 games in prime time this season. November night games likely are on the way in 2014.

So what's the next logical step? More rivalry games under the lights.

We've seen delicious conference matchups like Ohio State-Penn State, Ohio State-Wisconsin and Wisconsin-Michigan State kick off in prime time. But two of the Big Ten's biggest rivalries -- Michigan-Ohio State and Michigan State-Michigan -- continue to be played in the daylight hours. Although some of us would like to see The Game kick off at night, don't expect it to happen any time soon. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith acknowledged at the Big Ten spring meetings that he's open to 3:30 p.m. ET kickoffs, but when asked about playing Michigan at night, he said, "Are you crazy? What's wrong with you?"

OK, so Michigan-Ohio State is off the table for now. What about Michigan-Michigan State under the lights?

MSU athletic director Mark Hollis isn't ruling it out. Hollis, speaking Tuesday at the Detroit Economic Club, said Michigan State's home game against Michigan in 2014 could be played at night. Michigan State hosts its in-state rival both this season and next -- a first for the Spartans -- and while the Nov. 2 game at Spartan Stadium will kick off at noon ET or 3:30 p.m. ET, the teams' next meeting, on Oct. 25, 2014, could be in prime time.
"The first one will not be [under the lights], the second one is always a possibility," Hollis said. "We love night games at Michigan State, we think they have great value, but we also want to ensure it fits with everything else that's around. So it's going to depend on how many other night games are on the docket. It's nothing we would say a definite `no' to, but we would evaluate it if the situation arises."

Spartan Stadium likely would be the location if the in-state rivals ever play at night. Although Michigan is now hosting night games -- the Wolverines will play Notre Dame under the lights for the second straight season -- athletic director Dave Brandon has no plans to host MSU or Ohio State in prime time.

Night games are great for many fans, but they create headaches for schools and the cities in which they're located. Additional police and stadium staff usually are brought in for night games, and when you throw in two rival fan bases with a whole day to gear up for kickoff, problems can ensue.

But this isn't a reason for Big Ten teams to never play meaningful games at night. Look at Bedlam. Look at LSU-Alabama. Look at Notre Dame-USC.

Michigan-Michigan State doesn't have to be an annual night game, but it would be great to see it once in a while. Here's hoping Hollis does more than just consider having next year's game at night.
  • Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio also was at the Detroit Economic Club on Tuesday, and he said a report about the retirement of offensive lineman Skyler Burkland because of injuries was premature. Burkland has been limited since fracturing and dislocating his ankle in a September 2011 game against Notre Dame. Dantonio said Burkland, projected as Michigan State's starting right tackle, will be evaluated when preseason camp begins.
  • Dantonio also said Riley Bullough will open camp as a running back after moving there from middle linebacker late in spring practice.
Every Big Ten team will rely on a handful of freshmen (sometimes more than a handful) to fill key roles when the 2013 season rolls around. Which newcomers will make the biggest impact in the league?

Tom Luginbill, RecruitingNation's senior national recruiting analyst, has identified five names to remember among incoming freshmenInsider who will enroll this summer. Luginbill already singled out Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple as an early enrollee who could make a difference this fallInsider.

Two Big Ten freshmen make Luginbill's new list. Neither needs much of an introduction.

Michigan running back Derrick Green is expected to compete right away for a starting job. Ranked by RecruitingNation as the No. 5 running back (No. 38 overall player) in the 2013 class, Green will be Michigan's best option in the backfield as the Wolverines go back to a more traditional pro-set scheme that will emphasize power running. No Michigan back distinguished himself this spring, and Green likely will face the most competition from Fitzgerald Toussaint, who comes off of leg surgery.

Luginbill also likes the impact potential of Ohio State incoming freshman Dontre Wilson, who could be fill the so-called "Percy position" in Urban Meyer's spread offense in Columbus. Wilson, a speedster from Texas who picked Ohio State ahead of Oregon and Texas, brings playmaking ability to an offense that needs more of it other than star quarterback Braxton Miller. Although Jordan Hall returns to the mix after battling injuries throughout 2012, Wilson could have a significant role in the offensive vision with a strong preseason showing.

What other incoming freshmen (non-early enrollees) could make an impact in the Big Ten this season?

Here are a few:

Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg: It'll be Hackenberg or junior-college transfer Tyler Ferguson starting for the Lions in their season opener against Syracuse. Unless Ferguson creates significant separation in camp, Hackenberg likely will be a factor this season.

Indiana DT Darius Latham: The Hoosiers need help along their defensive line, and could turn to Latham right away. A four-star prospect with good size and athleticism (played basketball in high school), Latham should be part of the mix up front at IU.

Michigan State RB Delton Williams: The Spartans need help in the backfield after no one really emerged this spring, and the coaches moved backup middle linebacker Riley Bullough to offense for help. There's a good chance Michigan State turns to an incoming freshman and Williams, the team's highest-rated recruit in the 2013 class according to RecruitingNation, will have a golden opportunity in camp.

Ohio State S Vonn Bell: Unlike the other freshmen listed here, Bell doesn't play a position where Ohio State has an overly pressing need. But he might be too talented to keep off of the field, especially when the Buckeyes go to their nickel and dime packages.

100-days checklist: Big Ten

May, 21, 2013
5/21/13
12:00
AM ET
Good news: We are just 100 days away from the start of college football.

To mark the occasion, we're pulling out a checklist today of things that Big Ten teams need to accomplish between now and the start of the season. It's not quite "The Final Countdown" (cue GOB Bluth), but we are inching ever so close to kickoff. Here's what needs to happen in the next 100 days:

1. Identify a starting quarterback at Iowa, Indiana, Michigan State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin: It seems as if there are an unusually high number of Big Ten teams who don't know for sure who their starting quarterbacks will be in the fall. (You could also add Illinois and Minnesota to this list, though it appears likely that Nathan Scheelhaase and Philip Nelson, respectively, would have to lose the job in the summer.) Iowa had a three-man race this spring that will probably come down to Jake Rudock and Cody Sokol in training camp. There's very little separation between Cameron Coffman, Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson at Indiana. Connor Cook continues to breathe down the neck of incumbent Andrew Maxwell at Michigan State. Tyler Ferguson claimed the starting job at Penn State during the spring, prompting Steven Bench to transfer, but highly touted recruit Christian Hackenberg will push for immediate time. Purdue will likely decide between senior Rob Henry and true freshman Danny Etling. Joel Stave and Curt Phillips separated themselves from the Wisconsin QB derby this spring, while incoming junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy could expand the race this summer. All these situations should work themselves out in August, but no team wants to be dealing with an unsettled quarterback competition once the season starts.

2. Solidify the defensive front sevens at Nebraska and Ohio State: The Huskers and Buckeyes stand out as two of the top Big Ten contenders in 2013, but both have serious questions at defensive line and linebacker. The issue is more dire at Nebraska, which struggled there last year and is replacing all but one starter from 2012. Summer arrivals, including junior college star Randy Gregory, could make an immediate impact, and players coming back from injury such as linebacker Zaire Anderson and defensive tackle Thad Randle will need to play up to potential. Ohio State is less concerned about its defense after the spring performance of defensive ends Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, but linebacker Ryan Shazier is still the only returning starter in the front seven. Curtis Grant must finally live up to his talent to provide help to Shazier, and someone must assume John Simon's leadership role.

3. Locate the next great receivers: A few Big Ten teams, such as Nebraska, Penn State and Indiana, don't have to worry too much about who will catch the ball this year. But just about everybody else needs to find playmakers in the passing game. The top of that list includes Iowa, which couldn't generate a downfield passing attack last year; Illinois, which needs receivers to make new coordinator Bill Cubit's spread system work; Michigan State, whose young wideouts must improve on last year's shaky performance; Minnesota, which doesn't have many proven weapons to surround Nelson; and Wisconsin, which still must find a complement to Jared Abbrederis. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is hoping some incoming freshmen augment a very thin receiver group, while Michigan needs to replace the production of Roy Roundtree. Purdue and Northwestern have lots of speedy options but could use the emergence of a true No. 1 target. Receiver was a weak spot as a whole in the Big Ten in 2012, and hopefully some players will improve through offseason voluntary passing drills.

4. Strengthen the running game at Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana and elsewhere: It's a cliché to say that you have to run the ball to win, but in the case of the Big Ten, that's always been true. That's why it's so vital for the Wolverines and Spartans -- who both expect to contend in the Legends Division -- to find answers in their rushing attacks. Michigan is replacing its entire starting interior offensive line after struggling to get a running game going outside of Denard Robinson last year. Fitz Toussaint is hoping to bounce back from a disappointing season and a leg injury, while hotshot freshman Derrick Green could get lots of carries right away. Michigan State's efforts to replace workhorse extraordinaire Le'Veon Bell this spring ended up with converted linebacker Riley Bullough emerging as the top back in a mediocre field. Three incoming freshmen will compete for time right away this summer. Indiana coach Kevin Wilson put a heavy emphasis on the running game this spring, hoping for more balance after his team led the league in passing and finished last in rushing last season. Iowa has depth for once at running back but needs to stay healthy there, as the ground game is the key to the Hawkeyes' entire offensive philosophy. Nebraska also can't afford injuries, as Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross are the lone backs with any experience. Illinois averaged just 3.5 yards per carry as a team last year, a number that must improve. And while Purdue loved what it saw from Akeem Hunt this spring, he still must prove he can be an every-down back after attempting only 42 carries last season.

5. Mesh with new coaches: Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Purdue's Darrell Hazell are the fresh faces among head coaches in the league, and while they did a great job of connecting with their players this spring, they still need to get their new systems fully in place. The Badgers will be using some new, 3-4 looks on defense, while Hazell wants a more physical and disciplined team than we've seen from the Boilermakers of late. Michigan State has a new offensive playcaller in Dave Warner, while Cubit was one of many staff changes at Illinois. Penn State's John Butler takes over from Ted Roof as the Lions' defensive coordinator. With only 15 spring practices so far to implement their styles, those new coaches have had to rely on a lot of classroom time and players learning on their own. That will have to continue this summer during voluntary workouts and then will intensify when preseason practice begins. For new coaches, it's a race against the calendar -- and the calendar says there are only 100 days until kickoff.
Brothers Riley and Max Bullough looked forward to playing together this year at Michigan State. What they didn't envision was that one would have to tackle the other in practice.

But that's what happened last week, when the Spartans gave Riley -- a redshirt freshman who had been backing up Max at middle linebacker -- a shot at tailback. Suddenly, the brothers were pitted against one another and knocking heads on running plays.

"We're both very competitive," Riley told ESPN.com. "It's definitely something to see."

Putting the younger Bullough in the backfield was a surprising sight. Riley said he hasn't played running back since early in his freshman year of high school, though he was a prep quarterback who was used to having the ball in his hands. He also emulated Iowa's Mark Weisman on the scout team last year. Most assumed he'd follow the same path as Max, who is an All-Big Ten linebacker and future pro at the position.

But Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio has auditioned several players at tailback this spring as he seeks a replacement for Le'Veon Bell. And Riley scored two touchdowns -- both on 1-yard runs -- in last Saturday's scrimmage.

"It was a big adjustment at first, but my whole life I've played offense, so I was kind of used to it," he said. "I've got a lot to learn, but the guys on offense are helping me a lot. I'm going to play running back a little bit more this week, and hopefully some in the spring game."

Riley is big for a running back at 6-foot-2 and 232 pounds, but then again, so was Bell. Riley hasn't exactly been leaping over people like Bell so far in practice.

"Being 230 pounds does help out, especially going against our defense," he said. "They're a powerful defense. I'm not trying to juke anybody right now. I'm just trying to hit the hole as fast and as low as I can."

Not surprisingly, Riley views himself as a downhill power runner, but says he's got more speed than people might think, though his shake-and-bake moves are a little rusty.

Running backs are not a new thing in the family. His grandfather, Jim Morse, played halfback at Notre Dame in the '50s, and his uncle, Bobby Morse, was a Spartans fullback in the '80s. Riley said Bobby Morse will be at Saturday's spring game, and he plans to pick his brain about the running back position.

Michigan State is still using Riley at linebacker in practice, too, so he's learning both positions. Is his older brother jealous that he gets to play with the ball in his hands?

"He's a defensive guy through and through; always has been," Riley said of Max. "He was just as pumped as I was when I first told him about it."

Max is known as one of the smartest players around, and Riley said his brother's football IQ is so high that he can even give him tips on the offensive scheme. Even if Riley ends up on defense, he thinks this experience will help his own understanding of the game.

"I'm kind of learning some of the schemes and how offense work in general," he said. "Going back on defense, I can picture in my head the entire play, not just what the defense is doing. So that helps a ton when you're trying to play linebacker."

For now, he's a two-way player. Even if that means running into his brother on occasion in practice.
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Max Bullough doesn't need to look far to be reminded of the legacy he's carrying on at Michigan State.

In the Spartans' linebacker meeting room hangs a mural depicting great players from the school's past at the position. So every time Bullough watches film or hears instructions from his coach, images of his father, Shane, and uncle, Chuck, stare out at him.

[+] EnlargeMax Bullough
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesMax Bullough, poised to be a star in the 2012 season, is continuing a family tradition of MSU linebackers.
Like Max, both were standout starting middle linebackers at Michigan State. Max's grandfather, Hank, starred for the Spartans in the 1950s. There's no escaping the history of the Bullough family and the expectations that go along with having that last name. And Max embraces it all.

"It's fun," he told ESPN.com. "Everyone always talks about pressure this, expectations that. But those expectations are already on myself because I put them there. It's cool to have those names on the wall and be a part of something bigger."

He is busy making his own name these days. Michigan State fans fretted last summer about how the team would replace two-time All-American linebacker Greg Jones, but by early fall it was clear those worries were unfounded. Bullough stepped into the starting role as a sophomore and promptly led the team in tackles with 89, adding seven tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.

Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi calls Bullough "probably the key to our whole defense" and the biggest leader on that side of the ball. That's saying something for a defense that finished sixth nationally and looks stacked again in 2012.

"I think linebacker was a question mark going into last year," Bullough said. "I hope we proved some people wrong."

It's the position Bullough was born to play. His father remembers when Bullough first started playing football at age 8 and he announced to the family, "I'm going to play middle linebacker at Michigan State."

He played defensive tackle his first year of football because he was bigger than the other kids. But from then on, linebacker was his home. His family tried not to push him into one direction and urged him to play as many sports as possible as a kid. Yet football was clearly his passion.

"One of his greatest strengths from early on was that after a game, he would come home and ask, 'OK what did I do wrong?'" says Shane Bullough, who played for the Spartans from 1983-86. "It wasn't, 'Tell me how good I did.' He had the confidence to where I could say, 'Well, you didn't do this every well,' or 'This issue needs work.' That just spurred him on to get better at that particular issue."

Shane helped coach Max in middle school and into high school. But when it came time for Max to pick a college, he tried to let his son make his own decision. Michigan State obviously had an inside edge, but so did Notre Dame, where Max's maternal grandfather and an uncle played. In the end, the idea of following in his father's footsteps proved irresistible.

"The fact that my dad played here, and the passion I saw he had whenever we'd come to games here, that made it hard to go any other way," Bullough said.

That also meant more pressure in having to live up to the family name. But the Bulloughs thrive on competition and challenges.

"Max has always handled it well and has never shied away from it," Shane Bullough said. "I'm sure in his mind -- and I believe it in my mind, too -- that he can potentially be better than all of us."

Playing linebacker is the family business, and business is good. The 6-foot-3 Bullough was a second-team All-Big Ten performer last year and looks primed for a huge junior season. He has bulked up about 10 pounds from last year, up to 255, and will lead a defense that has as much depth as any Mark Dantonio has fielded in East Lansing.

The Bullough connection remains strong. Max said he gets pointers on his game from his uncle, Chuck, who is a Cleveland Browns assistant and the former UCLA defensive coordinator. His younger brother, Riley, is an incoming freshman who will arrive next month. Riley is projected as an outside linebacker, meaning he and his older brother could be on the field at the same time in the future.

"That's not paramount for us, but who wouldn't want to see that?" Shane Bullough says.

Only opposing ballcarriers.

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