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The word is that Notre Dame Coach Gerry Faust must win at least eight games this year and take the Irish to a major bowl, or the ghost of Rockne will descend from heaven and beat him to a pulp. After going 5-6 and 6-4-1 and receiving no bowl bids in his first two seasons in South Bend. Faust will have plenty of penance to do if he slips up again. His accomplishments at Moeller High in Cincinnati, where his teams lost 17 games in 18 years, are history. So is the No. 1 ranking Notre Dame achieved after Faust's first game there, a 27-9 win over LSU that was followed by four losses in the next five games. It's put-up or pack-up time for Faust, the devout Catholic workaholic whose office looks like a cross between a Notre Dame football museum and a religious shrine.
"I still get chills when I walk across this campus," says the indefatigable Faust. And it's not because he's anticipating the cold breeze of unemployment. In fact, with luck, a healthy quarterback and some cold Florida weather, Notre Dame could win the national championship.
A lot depends on signal-caller Blair Kiel, a four-year starter from Columbus, Ind. Kiel's early career at Notre Dame was rocky. As a freshman under Coach Dan Devine he completed only 48 of 124 passes for no touchdowns and threw five interceptions. As a sophomore he split time with Tim Koegel, who's now with the Chicago Blitz of the USFL. Last season, though, Kiel blossomed, leading the Irish to six victories and a tie in their first eight games, including a road upset of then top-ranked Pittsburgh. But Kiel injured his shoulder at the end of the Pitt game. Without him Notre Dame got walloped in its next two outings and lost any chance it had of finishing in the Top 10.
The effects of Kiel's injury were not all bad, however. Indeed, as Faust says, "It may have been the best thing that happened to Blair." Playing quarterback at Notre Dame can be intimidating, what with the inevitable comparisons to Lujack, Theismann, Montana, et al., and Kiel had been getting little support from Irish fans. Suddenly, though, they saw what the team was like without him. Says Faust, "They started asking, 'When is Kiel coming back?' Blair's a quality kid, but he's so concerned about what people think of him. Knowing they cared helped his confidence. And that's carried over."
Kiel credits much of his improvement last season to Offensive Coordinator Ron Hudson, who arrived last year from pass-happy UCLA. "Coach Hudson has taught me what to look at when my receivers are running their routes," he says.
An affable, modest sort, Kiel needs to complete only 72 passes this season to break the Notre Dame career completion record held by Terry Hanratty. "That will be an honor," he says. "But I'm only going to be as happy as the team is."
The Irish should be pretty happy for several reasons. Among the 13 returning starters are standout Cornerback Stacey Toran, wide receivers Joe Howard, Mike Haywood and Van Pearcy, who among them caught 49 passes last season, and most of the offensive and defensive lines. Phil Carter, last year's first-team tailback, is gone, but 6-foot, 204-pound Greg Bell and 5'9", 175-pound speedster Allen Pinkett are eager to take his place. Says Pinkett, "As always, the Notre Dame offensive line is humongous. These guys open the holes."
Another reason for good cheer is that five of Notre Dame's first six games are against teams that had losing records in 1982. The exception is Miami, which the Irish play in the Orange Bowl on Sept. 24. While Faust constantly reminds his players that Notre Dame is "the big game on everybody's schedule," he's particularly worried about this one. "It will be hot and humid, and we don't skip classes to go places early," he says. Pray to the Gipper for a cold front.
Faust's relentless recruiting—44,000 air miles in two months this spring—has paid off: The Irish have possibly the best freshman class in the country. Among the prizes are Defensive End Robert Banks from Hampton, Va., Running Back (and All-Name Team candidate) Hiawatha Francisco from Cincinnati, and Flanker Alvin Miller from Kirkwood, Mo. Miller placed first in four events in last spring's Missouri schoolboy state track meet, in effect winning the team championship all by himself.
"I'm not going to break any winning-percentage records here," says Faust, sitting in his office beneath a crucifix and a painting of the Four Horsemen. "That's nearly impossible. But someday I'd like to look back and see I've been here longer than any other coach." It's Year 3 and time for a miracle.