The state of Notre Dame

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Charlie Weis has declared this season is about deeds, not words for Notre Dame.

Weis instructed his players not to talk about expectations and just prove themselves on the field.

"The attitude of this team is just, 'Look, let's be a nasty football team but go about it in a quiet manner,'" linebacker Brian Smith said. "Every week we want to go play hard and win and then move on and not say too much about it."

That's all well and good, but in reality it doesn't matter if the Irish flap their gums or sew their lips shut. For two reasons.

One, because nothing the lightning-rod program does is ever quiet. And two, if the understandably soaring expectations aren't met, then someone than other than Charlie Weis will likely be coaching this program next season.

After reaching BCS games in his first two years in South Bend -- and getting thumped in both of them, by the way -- Weis has gone just 10-15 since. Even if you believe that he was winning with Tyrone Willingham's players early on and that he dealt with Willingham's recruiting misses and youth the past two years, then you must concede that this year presents a full-fledged referendum on his tenure.

His players are now in place in Year 5, and with 18 returning starters and a two-deep stuffed with upperclassmen, there aren't many excuses left. Weis believes this is the deepest and most experienced team he's had yet, and it gave a glimpse of its potential in a glittering performance against an admittedly mediocre Hawaii team in December's bowl win.

A schedule that features five teams that had losing records last season and just one opponent ranked in the preseason coaches' Top 25 further fuels the optimism. Mere competency from this team should net a bowl berth, though that's never the standard at Notre Dame.

"We're not trying to be good this year," quarterback Jimmy Clausen said. "We're trying to be great."

The future direction of Notre Dame's program depends on how close they get to that goal this year.