For the past two seasons, Shilique Calhoun has been one of the best defensive players in the Big Ten. But he has yet to be named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
Now, winning a single award is far from the reason that Calhoun passed up the 2015 NFL Draft and returned to Michigan State for his senior year. But it could be seen as unfinished business, a microcosm of the Spartans’ quest to finally summit college football’s mountain.
Two seasons ago, Calhoun was the Big Ten’s best pass-rusher. He recorded 14 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks. But most notably he made a habit of finding the end zone. He forced two fumbles, recovered four and even intercepted a pass. He scored three touchdowns. As a defensive end. Still, Calhoun missed out on the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award to Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland.
Last season, he had 12.5 tackles for loss an even bigger sack total of eight. But a monstrous season from Ohio State’s Joey Bosa meant a new king of the pass-rushers in the conference, and it was Bosa who took home the league’s most prestigious individual defensive award.
This season, it seems to be Calhoun vs. Bosa for the title of the conference’s top defensive player, and that competition couldn’t better parallel the battle between Michigan State and Ohio State for the title of the league’s best team. Bosa, like the Buckeyes, enters the reigning champ and the one with all the hype. Calhoun might be getting overlooked because of Bosa, similar to the Spartans when it comes to chasing down a Big Ten title.
And winning a conference championship and a national championship, that’s the reason Calhoun came back. He spoke at length last month during Big Ten Media Days about how Michigan State has unfinished business to achieve this season, unfinished business that amounts to a national title or bust.
His impassioned confidence and focus on the ultimate prize makes him a pretty perfect spokesman for the Spartans and the mission they’re trying to accomplish.
“Shilique was the leader of our defensive front last year, so he can only add to that aspect of it. When he decided to come back, he had reasons, he had concrete reasons why,” Mark Dantonio said during Media Days. “He brings a guy with great credibility among our players, among our staff and among our opponents. He brings a great credibility back to Michigan State, I think that’s the biggest thing he does. And he’s an outstanding person.”
He’s an outstanding player, too. With a recently star-studded secondary depleted thanks to jumps to the NFL and former defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi now the head coach at Pitt, Calhoun will be the leader of the Michigan State defense in 2015. He’ll also be its best player, and surely there will be moments where it’s him making game-changing plays. If those plays come on national stages against the likes of Oregon and Ohio State, then that Calhoun credibility will vault Michigan State even further into the national-championship discussion.
It might also finally make him the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.