Coach Gerry Faust is in the final year of a five-year contract, and if he wants to be around in '86, Notre Dame had better win enough games to go to a major bowl. As always, Faust is optimistic. "Things are finally starting to fall into place," he says. Faust contends that the Irish would have excelled last season if they hadn't been hit with an epidemic of injuries, which sidelined 13 starters for at least one game. The rash of breaks, tears and sprains may have been a blessing in disguise because Faust had to play a number of freshmen and sophomores.
Faust has a couple of other things in his favor. For the first time, his entire staff returns intact. He had replaced seven assistants before this season. "Gerry has learned he can't do everything himself," says A.D. Gene Corrigan. Notre Dame also has some momentum because it played the finest football of Faust's tenure in the final four regular-season games of '84. After staggering to a 3-4 record, the Irish beat LSU in Baton Rouge and Navy at the Meadowlands, won at USC for the first time since 1966 and routed Penn State in South Bend.
The offense will again revolve around junior quarterback Steve Beuerlein and senior tailback Allen Pinkett, both of whom missed spring practice after having surgery. "Allen and I spent some time comparing scars," says Beuerlein jokingly. Beuerlein sustained a chipped right clavicle against Miami in last season's fifth game. By his own estimate he was only "60% after that." Still, in '84 he threw for 1,920 yards and seven TDs while completing 60.3% of his passes.
Pinkett, who separated his right shoulder during a 27-20 loss to SMU in the Aloha Bowl, is the nation's top returning career rusher (3,031 yards) and needs just 441 yards to become the school's alltime leading ground-gainer. "Allen is the man," says Beuerlein. "When used properly, he makes our offense unstoppable, even when he's having a bad day."
The only thing that stopped Pinkett early last season was an unproductive Notre Dame attack. "We didn't have very much variety in our offense," says Beuerlein. "We tended to run Allen on first and second down, then threw if we had to." Indeed, the Irish attack became known around campus as the Four Ps offense—Pinkett, Pinkett, Pass and Punt.
That changed when receiver coach Mike Stock, a former player and coach under Ara Parseghian, replaced offensive coordinator Ron Hudson and began to call the plays from the press box. "We needed a different point of view," says Beuerlein of the switch. "When we started mixing things up on offense, we exploded." Pinkett gained 714 of his 1,105 yards and scored 11 of his 17 touchdowns in the final five regular-season games. With Stock as the offensive coordinator and Hudson working solely with the quarterbacks, the offense should score points in bunches.
"Allen's going to get his 30 carries a game," Beuerlein says. "The question now is when. If defenses key on him too hard, I'll throw a pass over their heads." His main targets: Tim Brown, Alvin Miller and Milt Jackson.
Notre Dame has eight starters back on defense, the heart of which is an experienced corps of linebackers. Because of injuries, Tony Furjanic, Mike Larkin and Mike Kovaleski have rarely played together. They're all healthy now, and they should be devastating. If they are—and the offense picks up where it left off at the end of '84—the Irish should win eight or nine games. If they don't, Faust is history.