If Eric Gordon played for any other team, he'd probably be a household name.
He'd likely have a few more awards listed below his mug shot in the media guide. Who knows, he might even have his own promotional Web site, like this one.
Gordon easily could be the Greg Jones of another team. But he's much happier being Jones' teammate at Michigan State, which is ranked No. 7 in the BCS standings and off to its first 7-0 start since 1966.
"Greg deserves everything he's gotten," Gordon said. "He's a great player and he makes awesome plays and flies around. I guess you could say I do wish I would be in his position, but I love the position I'm in. I’ve been doing the best I possibly can and he's doing the same. He just gets a few more tackles than me."
When told that Jones gets a few more tackles than just about everyone in college football, Gordon laughs and says, "Yeah, just a few more."
Gordon is the latest Big Ten linebacker to flourish a role previously occupied by players like Ohio State's Marcus Freeman and Penn State's Brandon Short. Both Freeman and Short were outstanding linebackers who played in the shadows of more decorated teammates: James Laurinaitis in Freeman's case, LaVar Arrington in Short's. Neither Freeman nor Short fully got the credit they deserved, but their accomplishments didn't go unnoticed.
The same holds true for Gordon, who has started 43 of his 45 career games for the Spartans, including each of the past 34 contests, a streak that ties him with Jones for the longest on the team. "Gordo," as he's known on the team, ranks 18th among active FBS players with 285 career tackles and has recorded 26 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and 8 pass breakups.
"He’s been around a long time," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said of the 6-foot, 232-pound fifth-year senior. "He's been an extremely productive player for us. He has great speed and great power and great ball skills."
Gordon's career tackles total ranks second among active Big Ten players.
Take a wild guess at who ranks first.
No one has had a better view for Jones' evolution than Gordon, who has played next to No. 53 for three plus seasons. Gordon considers Jones one of his best friends, and they both know how far they've come from the 2007 season.
"We always laugh whenever we see film of us," Gordon said. "We weren’t the smartest guys on the field. We just kind of lined up. We watch it and we ask each other, ‘What the hell we were doing?’"
It's certainly not the case any more, as Jones and Gordon are two of the more assignment-sound linebackers in college football. Jones gets most of the accolades -- consensus All-America honors, 2009 Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Year, 2009 and 2010 Big Ten preseason Defensive Player of the Year -- but Gordon is right by his side.
"He's so consistent, he's instinctual and physical, he can run sideline to sideline," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "He's been such a good player because of how consistent he's been."
Fitzgerald was the Greg Jones of Northwestern in the mid-1990s, although he'll never admit it. "Comparing my athleticism to Greg Jones is an insult to Greg," Fitzgerald said Monday. As a two-time National Defensive Player of the year, Fitzgerald garnered most of the attention, while Northwestern's other good linebackers like Danny Sutter -- "One heck of a player for us," Fitzgerald said -- were overlooked.
"[Jones] gets talked about a lot and he should because he’s a great player, but I enjoy watching Eric Gordon, too," Fitzgerald said. "He's one heck of a football player. Those two guys have been side by side now for a number of years, and they just do a tremendous job of playing the position."
Dantonio sees Gordon as the perfect complement to Jones, both as a blitzer and as another sure tackler in space.
"We've been together since Day 1 of actually playing," Gordon said. "He's always been next to me. Our communication is great. We understand each other and I just think we work together great. It's been an honor.
"I've learned so much from him. I hope he's learned a little from me."