CHICAGO -- Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz is fond of saying that things are neither as good nor as bad as they seem, and reality lies somewhere in between.
That seemed an appropriate theme for his Irish yesterday, who were fresh off a decisive road victory at Brigham Young with all eyes turning toward their showdown with No. 1 Florida State Nov. 13.
Their 45-20 win, coupled with Alabama struggling for a tie with Tennessee, elevated the Irish to No. 2 in the polls. Then they received the bad news.
Ron Powlus, the highly regarded freshman quarterback who was expected back from an injury in time for the FSU game, broke his collarbone again yesterday and definitely will be lost for the season. There was little explanation for the injury.
Powlus has been rehabilitating the shoulder and began throwing a week ago, starting at a distance of 5 yards. He broke his right clavicle in the same place while throwing passes in practice yesterday.
"He knew right away he did it," said John Heisler, spokesman for the athletic department. "He went to X-rays. He's done for the season. He had been progressing well in rehab. It's just one of those things."
Powlus was the nation's top high school quarterback last season and was impressive in preseason drills. In fact, Holtz was about ready to name him a starter over senior Kevin McDougal and junior Paul Failla when he initially broke his collar bone in the final scrimmage, a week before the opener with Northwestern.
As Powlus continued his rehabilitation, Holtz said he would not ,, hesitate to use Powlus in a game this season if he thought it would give the Irish the best chance to win. It was thought by many that if Notre Dame fell behind against Florida State, Holtz might call on the freshman for a chance to bail out the Irish.
That scenario is no longer academic. It's impossible.
McDougal has been inconsistent this season, but he had one of his impressive days against Brigham Young, completing 10 of 16 passes for 177 yards, including a 66-yard scoring strike to Michael Miller.
The players are reluctant to talk about the upcoming matchup with Florida State because of Holtz's admonitions to stay focused on the task at hand.
"With a guy like Coach Holtz running this show, I really don't think we're going to have a situation where we're looking ahead," said linebacker Pete Bercich, who returned to the starting lineup against BYU after missing two games with a shoulder separation.
"We're always in touch with our long-term goals, but to get there you have to do things in the short run."