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Christmas Day was unpleasant for Michigan State Spartans linebacker Max Bullough. The news of his suspension cripples one of the nation's best defenses. Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images.
Christmas Day was unpleasant for Michigan State Spartans linebacker Max Bullough. The news of his suspension cripples one of the nation's best defenses. Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images.

Losing a captain a week before the biggest game of the season is a nightmare.

It’s Michigan State’s reality. Two-time captain Max Bullough’s suspension comes as a surprise considering the team imposed the suspension internally. MSU coach Mark Dantonio did the right thing by suspending him, though the school is hiding behind the all-encompassing "violation of team rules." No other information has been released.

His suspension changes the complexion of the Rose Bowl. Bullough one of the team's best tacklers, but more importantly, he's the best on-field leader for a defense that allows 12.7 points per game, fourth-best in the country. He is the cement at the middle of the Spartans defensive wall.

Schematically, MSU will have to adjust like they are losing a veteran quarterback. MSU often refers to him as a computer. His absence will cripple the team most notably before the snap, when he was at his best lining up the defense. Replacing someone who is that consistent is a tall task.

Their backup and likely replacement, Kyler Elsworth, has 10 tackles this season. He is a senior yet has played sparingly. Other defensive leaders like Kurtis Drummond and Denicos Allen will have to instill team confidence after this blow. They will also have to make up for him on the field.

Stanford’s running back Tyler Gaffney is likely both disappointed and licking his chops. The 2013 Pac-12 MVP is a competitor and he was likely looking forward to popping pads with the veteran linebacker. However, Gaffney wants to win and Bullough’s absence will aid his campaign against the Spartans defense. Stanford’s game plan will not change, but should become even more effective than it already is. The Cardinal come into the game averaging 210.9 rushing yards per game, but scheming against Stanford's rush attack is tough enough. 

There was so much certainty at the linebacker position on a defense that’s so consistent, but the news on Christmas day leaves MSU vulnerable and its fans wondering.