The doubting voices that could be heard before his first season ended have swelled to a nationwide chorus singing a sad song of doom for Gerry Faust.

Notre Dame's noble football experiment has failed. Nothing is official, and perhaps will not be until the season ends in two weeks. But I have a better chance of playing a chukker with Prince Charles next year than Faust does of coaching the Irish.

He is a good man. No coach has inspired more goodwill the last five seasons than Faust. Few have walked toward the sporting gallows with more class.

"Any more questions?" he said as the press conference after Notre Dame's 36-6 loss to top-ranked Penn State Saturday was dragging on.

Yes, there was one.

It was put more delicately, for not all newspaper guys would ask their grandmothers how it felt to be hit by that truck before summoning help. What the fellow from Chicago was driving at was whether Faust figured he already was history.

"No," he insisted. "Not really. It was one bad game. We'd played well (during four straight victories). Games like this happen. You don't like to see it. We've got LSU coming up (and Miami on the road after that).

"We've gotta bounce back. It's as simple as that. Same as I gotta bounce back."

Predictions of his being dismissed had surfaced even before Faust brought Notre Dame here with a 5-3 record to face the unbeaten Nittany Lions. Reasonably, the well-informed Frank Broyles told USA Today: "I said it would take a miracle (to save his job) . . . I don't think that miracle has happened."

Neither did it happen here. The Irish were as miserable as the weather. They lost the ball in nearly every way that football makes possible. A punt was blocked; so was an extra point. There were two lost fumbles, three interceptions, a sack and four personal-foul penalties.

ABC even pulled the plug, for Georgia-Auburn, early in the fourth quarter, with the Irish in their worst shape on the scoreboard since two 40-point losses (to Oklahoma and Iowa) in 1956.

By that time, Faust had snatched the headset from his ears. He was pacing the sideline in frustration, fussing at some players and patting others in encouragement.

He was one of the few in this rainy-cold day who remained hatless the entire game. This might have indicated not too many smarts if his counterpart across the field, Joe Paterno, also had not stayed bareheaded.

If he thought long enough, Paterno could remember some of the frustration Faust knows. Paterno has won 81 percent of his games in 20 years, but was not wildly successful early.

In his first 23 games, Paterno was 11-12. Nobody was scurrying down from Mount Nittany swinging for his scalp, but there was considerable pressure.

Paterno met it, and crushed it. The Lions did not lose again for 32 games, being tied once, in the Gator Bowl, after he brashly ordered a fourth-down run that failed deep in State territory.

In less than three seasons, Paterno had the Lions turned toward several runs at the national championship; Faust literally started at the top and worked his way down.

In 1981, Faust assumed control of a team that had gone 9-1-1 and lost to national champion Georgia by seven points in Dan Devine's last season.

What a neat chance Notre Dame took by giving one of the most glamorous jobs in sport to a high school coach. What a beginning Faust enjoyed. Nobody not terminally heartless could resist his nonstop charm.

Before his second game, Faust was coaching the No. 1 college team in the land. Some start. His 27-9 whipping of LSU inspired irrational thoughts from more than the pollsters.

The second paragraph of my giddy rhapsody read: "Without a doubt, Gerry Faust belongs at Notre Dame."

That still may prove true. He does seem to belong at Notre Dame, though in some capacity other than head football coach. In five seasons, anyone who has to practically fight off high school all-Americas ought to be more than six games over .500.

Or should he?

As Broyles also suggests, Notre Dame no longer is the job every coach covets. In addition to exceptional academic standards for their athletes, the Irish also do not routinely redshirt players.

Nearly everyone else does. Many teams hold entire classes back to give players an extra year to mature. Playing against more mature players is a distinct disadvantage for the Irish.

Still, they hardly are hopeless. Their roster for the Penn State game included 29 players 6 feet 4 or taller. Surely there are men as honest, and nearly as engaging, who would thrive at America's Football School.

Ironically, the State player who hurt Notre Dame the most was a Faust pupil in high school: John Shaffer.

"He did well, the son of a gun," said Faust, all but beaming with pride. "He's an excellent young man. A winner."

Only once did Faust get irritated. That was with the final question, the one about whether there was an outside chance he could save his job.

"Why don't you talk about the kids," he snapped. "The players. Forget about me."

One of the raps on Faust is that he is not single-minded enough, that he wears too many hats, that he gives too much of himself to too many people.

That was evident when the press conference ended. Seconds after some chit-chat with a columnist who has won the Pulitzer Prize, Faust was saying: "Where's that Penn State kid?"

He had promised an interview with a nervous student whose voice would be heard no more than a few miles from State's campus.

Faust gave him all the time he needed. Still forcing a smile, Faust left the near-empty room for, long-term, who knows where.