Because he won the Heisman Trophy, Southern California tailback Charles White will be the focus of most of the attention when the Trojans and Ohio State play in the Rose Bowl Tuesday at 5 p.m. in what is being billed here as the game for the national championship.
But coaches and players on both teams say it is not White who is the key for USC. It is quarterback Paul McDonald. As far as Buckeyes are concerned, almost everyone agrees that their key man is quarterback Art Schlichter.
"Quarterbacks almost always decide big games," Trojan defensive coordinator Don Lindsay said. "If one of them gets hot on you, there probably isn't anything you can do to stop him."
McDonald and Schlichter, both articulate and forth-right young men, agree their performances probably will decide the fate of their teams. Both say they like it that way.
"I know Charlie White is going to get his yards," McDonald said. "He's going to go out there and be jacked up and he's going to get 100 to 150 yards.
"That means I don't have to do anything spectacular. If I can make a couple of big plays on third down, not make any mistakes at crucial times, we'll win the game.
"But if I don't have the kind of day I want to and we lose, people will look at the stats, see that Charlie got his yards and say, 'McDonald screwed it up.' and they'll probably be right.
"I like that kind of pressure, though. That's why I play this position. If you play guard, you can play the greatest game of your life and your team could still lose. At quarterback, that usually isn't true."
McDonald is a senior, Schlichter a sophomore. McDonald started in USC's 17-10 win over Michigan a year ago. Schlichter is here for the first time.
"I love this kind of atmosphere, this kind of buildup," Schlichter said. "Last year at the Gator Bowl, there was almost nothing -- no pressure, no buildup. I like it like this. I like the fact we're playing for such high stakes and that my play is going to have something to do with the outcome."
USC Coach John Robinson thinks Schlichter's play may have everything to do with the outcome, largely because he feels Schlichter can function well even if players around him are not having good days.
"Schlichter reminds me a little of Terry Bradshaw." Robinson said, "because he's such a good athlete. He's the type of guy who can call his team into the huddle and say Okay, everyone go deep and I'll just run around back here for a while and then throw a 65-yard touchdown pass.'
"Paul can't do that. He isn't as mobile. He has to work within the framework of our offense to be effective."
Both quarterbacks were picked for various All-America teams and have superb statistics. McDonald threw for 17 touchdowns while completing 64 percent of his passes for 1,989 yards. Schlichter hit 52.5 percent of his passes for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns and also rushed for 436 yards and nine more scores.
Beyond great statistics, the similarities end.McDonald is a drop-back passer. He is not quick on his feet, rushing for minus yardage this season. Schlichter is a rollout, option quarterback who is as dangerous running as passing.
Off the field, McDonald is as interested in his school work as football. He is an academic All-America. Ask him why he wants to play pro football and his answer is blunt:
"The main reason is the money. The thought of playing football for another 10 years doesn't inspire me of anything like that. But the idea that when I retire I can choose my career based on what I want, not just what's available, is appealing.
"I'd like to go into business or law, I think. If I went into law, I'd like to be a judge some day. That would be the sort of job that would fascinate me."
Schlichter, two years younger, sees the pros as a boyhood dream.
After an NFL career, he said, "I think I might like to go into broadcasting, but I am not sure. That's a ways down the road. Right now, I just love sports, first and foremost."
Schlichter, 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, is an outstanding athlete. He lettered on the Ohio State basketball team last year and plans to play again this year. He says he loves football and basketball too much to even think of giving up one or the other until he has to.
Schlichter admitted he will be nervous when he walks into the Rose Bowl Tuesday and looks up and sees 100,000 people. "I'll be nervous, but it'll be a good kind of nervous," he said. "It'll let me know I'm ready to play.
"Anybody who tells you he's not nervous when he walks through that tunnel and looks up at all the people is lying or kidding himself," McDonald said. "Being nervous shows you care.
"I just remind myself that this is why I play football. This is the fun part, the part I'll remember late in life. If you can't enjoy this week, you probably shouldn't play football."
Ohio State Coach Earle Bruce has run closed practices all week and for the previous three days did not allow his players to talk to the press. Robinson's practices are open to the public and his players have been available for the asking.
McDonald says he prefers the loose atmosphere. "I don't think I could handle the Ohio State atmosphere," he said. "I think if you get too tense, you can't function well. That kind of seriousness would make me too tense."