McDowell, a redshirt junior from Sumter, has turned heads in 2012. He's third on the team with 424 yards rushing and five touchdowns.
But McDowell has a ways to go before locking down the spot that Ellington has called his own to for more than two years.
Right now, four others candidates are lining up for the starting job. Along with McDowell, D.J. Howard, Zac Brooks, Tyshon Dye and Wayne Gallman will be vying for Ellington's carries in 2013.
"At the end of the day, my mind is set like this: there is no starter next year," McDowell said. "Everybody has an equal opportunity to play ball. Me, D.J., Zac, the other two running backs that are coming in, I feel like everybody is competing."
It took some time before McDowell was able to make significant contributions to the Tigers' backfield. In his first two seasons after redshirting, McDowell rushed for 224 yards and two touchdowns on 46 carries.
Despite the lack of touches, he remained patient.
"I knew my blessing was coming," McDowell said. "I kept working hard in the classroom. I kept working hard on the field. It paid off in the weight room.
"When the coaches call my number, it's time for me to put up. That's what I did this year."
It wasn't always easy waiting to hear the coaches call No. 25.
"It can be difficult. But, at the end of the day, I look at it like this: the best and the greatest had to wait some time. Then, they get the opportunity, they run with it," he said. "That's what I feel like I'm doing. I got my opportunity, I ran with it."
This offseason will be big for McDowell. It could go a long way in helping him take over the feature back role next season.
"My main focus, my main targets for this offseason are pass blocking, learning the defensive schemes more, getting my weight up, finish my runs, working on my leg drive," McDowell said.