SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- He is The Other Quarterback in college football's biggest game this season. But Notre Dame's Kevin McDougal is used to being an afterthought, accustomed to playing in the shadow of others.
After backing up Rick Mirer the past three years, it appeared McDougal was heading for the bench again this season. Fighting Irish coach Lou Holtz told the senior from Pompano Beach, Fla., that freshman Ron Powlus was going to start.
McDougal had something to tell Holtz. Something about leading the Irish to the national championship.
"Every quarterback has the confidence that he has the ability to lead his team to the national championship," McDougal said yesterday. "I've waited for three years, and I always felt that if I got my chance, I could lead this team to great things."
The chance came when Powlus broke his collarbone in Notre Dame's final preseason scrimmage. While many fans thought it would cost the Irish its chance at a national championship, McDougal was undaunted. Now, he is undefeated.
Going into Saturday's game here against top-ranked Florida State, McDougal has led Notre Dame to a No. 2 ranking and to eight of its nine victories. (He sat out against Southern Cal with a bruised shoulder.)
While he has not put up the kind of stats that likely will win Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward the Heisman Trophy, McDougal has done more than a credible job for the Irish. Considering how little he had played, some might think it's incredible.
"Kevin has done a great job for us," Holtz said of McDougal, who solidified his position by running for two touchdowns and throwing for 208 yards in a 27-23 upset of Michigan. "He waited his turn and has taken advantage of his opportunity."
Wide receiver Clint Johnson said: "At the beginning of the year, people had questions about Kevin because he hadn't played much. People kind of doubted his ability. I think Kevin has made a lot of progress in the leadership of our team."
Now that he's The Other Quarterback again, McDougal doesn't seem to mind being overlooked in the hoopla surrounding this game.
"I like being in the background right now," McDougal said. "I can relax and turn it on when the game comes. He [Ward] gets all the publicity. If we come out with a victory, that's all I want."