You could hardly blame Dan Devine, the Gene Bartow of the football fraternity, for overreacting, with all the troubles he's seen at Notre Dame, but he was overstating it a bit with his reaction to Al Hunter: Suspension II.

"We've gone from feast to famine in a hurry," said coach Devine, who learned earlier that Willard Browner, a running back on last year's Irish who won nine of 12, including the Gator Bowl over Penn State, will be academically ineligible this fall.

If returning all 11 defensive starters, including Browner's big brother Ross, the Outland Trophy winner and eight of 11 on offense - even without Hunter - constitutes famine. Devine truly will find the hot seat that he inherited from Ara Parseghian in 1975 sizzling so this time around. He has two veterans in Joe Montana and Rusty Lisch, plus a fistful of all-America high schoolers, vying to replace graduated Rick Slager at quarterback: plenty of wide receivers to succeed Dan Kellcher; and to step in for Hunter, the first 1,000-yard gainer in N.D.'s illustrious annals (1,058 in a school-record 233 carries for the '76 regular season), no slouches:

Jerome Heavens, leading Irish rusher in 1975 coming back after torn cartilage cost him nine games in 1976, and Vagas Ferguson, Hunter's '76 back-up (350 yards, including 107 vs. Alabama).

Hunter? He'll say next week whether he might sue over his newly announced suspension for violating dormitory rules restricting visits by opposite sex. He was one of six football players suspended a year (1974) for a dorm sex incident - a trauma that undoubtedly hastened Parseghian's retirement - and the latest penalty would mean the end of his college athletic career, because NCAA rules stipulate a player may have only four years eligibility in a five-year period.

Maybe Hunter should have stayed home in Greenville, N.C., not only site of East Carolina U. but deep in Atlantic Coast Conference country . . .

And the outstanding ACC athlete of the year fresh in by vote of 115 conference sportswriters is: Phil Ford, North Carolina's basketball genius. Ford four-cornered the award with 43 votes to 20 for UNC football tailback Mike Voight, 17 for Wake Forest football safety Bill Armstrong. Only Marylander receiving votes: all-America tackle Joe Campbell . . . Carl James, who resigned as athletic director at Duke last week, has been offered the $38,000-a-year post as executive director of the Sugar Bowl postseason football game: announcement expected today . . . And tragedy right there in Greenville, N.C., this week, an explosion and fire that destroyed his home killed Rick Bankston, 31, defensive line coach at ECU. Attributed to gas leaking from a line broken by workmen repairing a nearby septic tank, the blast also killed a woman, 27, and injured two men . . . In upstate New York, a second-string center on the Syracuse U. football team. James Farin, is hospitalized with serious injuries suffered when a keg of beer he was handling on his summer job at a Miller Brewery exploded. What next?