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Crable has put plenty of good hits on people since his days at Cincinnati's Moeller High, whose teams went 36-0 during his four years there. "I guess it was the tradition and mystique of Notre Dame football that got me here," he says. Except that Notre Dame's record the past three years hasn't quite been up to Moeller's standard. Last season's 9-2-1, with losses to USC and Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, was the best the Irish have had since Crable came to South Bend. Ah, but we have yet another Moeller alumnus (there are nine such on the team) at South Bend this year, and 46-year-old rookie Coach Gerry Faust doesn't intend to see his .907 winning percentage drop so much as a point.
Faust, who seems to get in about 27 hours of work each day, inherits a strong squad from retired Dan Devine, and reaped what is conceded to be the nation's strongest crop of freshman recruits, including two ex-Moeller players, Fullback Mark Brooks and Linebacker Mike Larkin. Moreover, last year's starting backfield of Tailback Phil Carter, Fullback John Sweeney and Quarterback Blair Kiel returns, while Tim Koegel, the backup QB in 1979, is healthy after missing last season with injuries. In what Faust considers his key move, he has switched Tony Hunter from split end to wingback, in order to get the ball to him more frequently (an anticipated 15 to 20 times a game).
Eight starters return on the defense, a unit that ranked fourth in total defense last season. The secondary, consisting of John Krimm, Dave Duerson, Rod Bone and Stacey Toran, could well be the best in the country.
As usual, Notre Dame has a killer schedule, opening at home with LSU, then traveling to Michigan; Florida State and USC visit South Bend back-to-back, and the Irish finish with road games at Penn State and Miami ( Fla.). Studying the schedule, Faust says, "I hope my lifelong dream doesn't end in a nightmare."
6. PENN STATE
One afternoon this summer Larry Kubin, Penn State's outstanding defensive end and a gourmet cook, put together a spaghetti sauce recipe for his wife and mother-in-law. A month later Kubin cooked up another surprise: He changed his mind about playing for Joe Paterno this season and signed a contract with the Washington Redskins, who had drafted him in the sixth round before his eligibility status—in question because of a knee injury early in the 1980 season—had been decided by the NCAA.
Kubin's defection was a blow to the Nittany Lion defense, but Paterno is working on a new recipe of his own. One of the key ingredients is a little unfamiliar to him. Something exotic called foot speed. Yes, Penn State, the home of the bullying linebacker, the hulking lineman and the power back, will have its own track team this fall with 10 players who run the 40 in 4.5 or less and eight at 4.6 flat. Even Paterno, who rarely talks in absolutes, even at gunpoint, says, "There is no question it's the fastest team I've ever coached."
And here's another absolute from Paterno, in re his team's schedule: "On paper, it's the toughest we've ever faced, maybe the toughest anyone ever faced." How tough? Try Nebraska, Miami and Pitt on the road and back-to-back home games with Alabama and Notre Dame. Still, optimism abounds in the Nittany Valley. "I believe we're looking down the barrel of a national championship," says All-America guard Sean Farrell. Pitt Coach Jackie Sherrill concurs. " Penn State," he says, "is going to get my vote as the No. 1 team in the preseason poll." "Tell Jackie I appreciate that," says Paterno with a smile, "but there's always somebody, and not necessarily the Alabamas or the Nebraskas, who can come out of the woodwork and beat you."
For that to happen, someone is going to have to come out of the woodwork and stop junior Tailback Curt Warner, Paterno's No. 1 track man. A 9.5 100-yard-dash man in high school, Warner rushed for 922 yards and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns last season. "People say I'm like O.J. Simpson," says Warner. "But I enjoy smashing into people." That might make Paterno cringe, but if something happens to Warner, he can call on sophomore Jonathan Williams, who has 4.46 speed. And both Warner and Williams will be pushed by senior Joel Coles, who can't match their speed but is talented enough to have averaged 5.4 yards per carry a year ago.
Paterno's major offensive problem, in fact, may well be figuring how to work Warner-Williams-Coles combinations into the lineup while preserving his basic I formation offense, which has senior Mike Meade (himself a high school sprinter) at blocking back. "We don't have to play with a fullback and a tailback, I guess," says Paterno. "We're going to fool around with different sets and things like that."