Dave Rimington, Nebraska's heralded all-America center, has a fat boy's face, if only because they haven't yet come up with a barbell or a Nautilus machine that can eliminate chubby cheeks and double chins.

It is probably the only flab on a physique sculpted in the Nebraska weight room, a man who weighs between 290 and 300 pounds, depending on last night's dinner; a frame that stretches to 6 feet 3 and features a 20-inch neck, 32-inch thighs, 57-inch chest and 20-inch biceps.

He plays a position that is rarely the subject of statisticians. As former Redskins center Len Hauss once said, "Nobody really knows what a center does, anyway." And yet, Rimington's numbers, according to Nebraska's strength coach, Boyd Epley, "set a standard I'm not sure anyone will ever match."

"I've got his chart right here," said Epley. "As a freshman, he weighed 320 pounds, had a vertical jump of 25 inches, bench-pressed 340 pounds and ran the 40 (yards) in 5.23 seconds. As a sophomore, he was 254, had a 26-inch jump, benched 365 and ran 5.17. Junior year, he was up to 283 pounds, the jump was 27 1/2, he benched 420 and did 5.09 in the 40.

"This year, we weighed him at 291, he jumped 28 inches--a Big Eight record--benched 435--another Big Eight record--and did the 40 in 5.05. He is an athlete who has never been satisfied. And he has worked extremely hard to get there."

And now, as third-ranked Nebraska (11-1) prepares to play 13th-ranked Louisiana State (8-2-1) Saturday night in the Orange Bowl, Rimington is working hard on another number. He is telling everyone he sees with a pen or microphone that Nebraska is the best team in America, that it deserves to be No. 1, the national football champion, despite its 27-24 loss to Penn State earlier in the season.

"I think we're right up there with Penn State," he said the other day. "We played on their turf and lost on a controversial call. They had a guy catch a pass on our three in the final seconds that was clearly out of bounds. They scored and they beat us; I've accepted that. But I also know they lost to an Alabama team by 21 points, and Alabama lost four games this year.

"I know very well it's a longshot for us to win the national championship. Penn State and Georgia have to tie and we've got to win big. But I've been campaigning kind of hard just for the writers to consider us. I go through my whole spiel. If they listen, fine. If not, we know how good we are. That's enough."

Of course, everyone else also knows how good Dave Rimington is. On Monday, LSU Coach Jerry Stovall said, "The sucker plays real hard. I kinda wish he'd coast a little against us. I think he'd be a pleasure to coach."

Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne agreed.

"He's the best I've ever seen play the position in college football," Osborne said. "It's just very unusual to have a player who weighs 290 pounds be your quickest offensive lineman. He's got great strength and intelligence, too." Scouts for the National Football League concur.

"The way he's been publicized, you'd think he was Superman, the greatest thing since Cracker Jacks," said Kansas City scout Les Miller, whose Chiefs may draft Rimington to replace 13-year pro Jack Rudnay, who is retiring. "I don't think that, but I do think he's very good, a cinch No. 1 pick and a guy who'll play for years and years. He's as good a pure center as I've ever seen. He dominates."

Said Lynn Stiles of the Philadelphia Eagles: "He's a guy who plays offense with a defensive player's temperament. I mean he's aggressive. He's just not satisfied blocking his man. He wants to put him on his back, and when he's done with that, he starts looking for somebody else. That's probably the biggest criticism of him: that he's sometimes overly aggressive. I'd say that would take about two days to get corrected in training camp."

Rimington said he is flattered by the attention, by the praise, by the two successive Outland Trophy awards he's won as the best college lineman this year and last.

He's also bright enough--an academic all-America with a B-plus average in business--to know the adulation, which is a long way from reaching its peak, is not going to last the rest of his life.

"When I was in high school (in Omaha), I got hurt, broke my leg," he said. "Before that, I never thought I could get hurt. Then I started noticing guys in the pros got hurt and you never heard about them again. Now I read about players getting arrested on drug charges. You wonder how it could happen to them. But you know it can. So I try not to let all this go to my head."

He said he lives a mostly humdrum life back in Lincoln, where his wife, Lisa, works as a waitress at a motel dining room. He provides a check from his football scholarship that barely keeps him in the steaks and eggs he needs to maintain his mass. "She's the breadwinner," he said, "and there's not that much bread." He is also as fanatical about his workouts as he is about his calorie consumption. He once pushed his car around a parking lot to get in his leg and hip work when the Nebraska weight room was locked. A typical weight session for the big man?

"I'll usually start doing three sets of situps, about 35 a set. Then five or six sets of bench presses. I'll usually start with 10 of 135 pounds, and 10 of 225, 10 of 315, eight of 365 and four of 405. That's before practice. Afterward, I do a whole lot more. And it has paid off. I've actually gotten stronger this year."

No one would dispute that. Even the chubby cheeks look powerful.

"Yeah, I guess people stare at me a lot," he said. "But I honestly don't think I look like I weigh 300 pounds. I'm just a little bigger than normal. Not huge or anything. Not to me, anyway.

"But that's what everybody writes about and they're always harping on the key matchup. The writers always talk to the guy who's got to play against me. They always say they put my picture in their locker to give 'em inspiration.

"I just hope I can live up to all the stuff these guys think I can do."

He usually does.