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."