Michigan State linebacker Riley Bullough is thinking big picture as he heads into his final season as a Spartan. Bullough, who sneaks into our College Football Rank Top 100 players at the No. 97 spot, is trying to carve out a name for himself this year among one of the country's deepest linebacker groups and a crowded family tree of football stars.
The Bullough name casts a long shadow in East Lansing. Riley became the fourth member of his family to lead Michigan State in tackles with 106 stops last fall, and he'll become the fourth member of his family to lead the program in tackles for two straight seasons if he can put together a repeat performance in 2016.
"I just want to leave a legacy that people remember," Bullough said at Big Ten media days last week. "I want to be looked at as a hardnosed guy, someone who was always willing to work. I feel like in our family that's been what the Bullough family name has been about it. I want to keep that going."
The fifth-year senior spoke about his family, his team and his expectations (among other topics) during his time representing the Spartans in Chicago. Here are a few notable snippets.
Q: Was it tough following in your older brother's (All-Big Ten linebacker Max Bullough) footsteps at Michigan State?
"I wouldn't say it was tough. It just put the expectations that much higher. I was expected to do what he did and more. I just cherish that and I relish it."
Q: How are you different from your brother?
"I've got longer hair first of all. He always wants me to cut it. He hates the long hair, bracelets all that stuff. He hates it."
Q: Many people are comparing this season to the 2012 year (when the Spartans dropped to 7-6 after an 11-win season). Do you think it's a similar situation?
"I think on the 2012 team we did have a lot of great players. just things didn't turn out right for whatever reason. They had a lot of talent on that team and we have a lot talent now. But the culture has changed in the last four years or so."
Q: Are the linebackers leaders of the team this year?
"I definitely think linebackers are the leader of the defense and of the team for our team. You've got to tell a lot of people what's going. You've got to be a leader and fill that role. We call it the quarterback of the defense."
Q: Will you have more freedom to make changes in the defense in Year 2 as a starter?
"I'll feel more comfortable doing it because I've had more time doing it. The coaches leave a lot of things up to you, so it's exciting to get out there and start doing it again."
Q: What would it mean to get (sixth-year linebacker) Ed Davis back in the lineup this year?
"It would mean a lot. Ed is a great athlete, extremely physical, athletic. All the things you would want in a great linebacker. To have him back would help our defense out a lot."
Q: Is the Michigan game a bigger deal this season after the way last year's game ended?
"I'm sure they think that we stole that game from them. That rivalry every year is huge. You're either the team down the road or you're Michigan State. There is no in between. That's how it is and I think that's the way it should be."
Q: Has the 38-0 loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff been a motivator for the team this offseason?
"I think we look at it a little bit different than other people. We feel like we were close in that game. 38-0 isn't really how it felt at all. Little things here and there went wrong and then it snowballed and we couldn't get back from it. It definitely is a game that you look at and understand that benchmark of where we've got to be."