SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - It's show time for No. 23 Notre Dame and Nevada.
The preseason credo for the Fighting Irish has been it's time to stop talking about how good the team can be and just go out and show it. No more talk about how the Notre Dame defense is going to be tougher, or how the Irish running game is finally going get going after the worst three seasons in the school's 120-year football history. It's show time.
"I think that's exactly what the team feels," coach Charlie Weis said. "It's not just coach Weis talking. It's what the team feels."
Fans talk about the Irish losing a school-record 15 losses over the past two seasons and speculate how many games Notre Dame must win this year for Weis to keep his job. But Irish players say they aren't feeling any added pressure headed into an opener against a Wolf Pack team that was fifth in the nation in total offense last season.
"Just being at the University of Notre Dame you're going to have pressure," quarterback Jimmy Clausen said. "We always talk about the head coach and quarterback of Notre Dame get too much praise when things go right and get too much blame when things go wrong."
Clausen took his share of criticism last season. He was outstanding at times, especially at the Hawaii Bowl in December when he completed 22-of-26 passes for 401 yards and five touchdowns against Hawaii. All four incompletions were dropped passes.
"Your stats aren't going to get much better than that ever. But that's what you have to shoot for on a week in, week out basis," Weis said.
There also were times when Clausen let his frustration show and he forced passes that were intercepted. Weis, who has taken over as offensive coordinator this season, wants Clausen to show more composure when things are going poorly, to be a better leader and to make better decisions when receivers are covered and defenders are rushing him.
As an example, Weis said the slow-footed Clausen has learned to shuffle around the pocket just a bit to buy more time - rather than just bailing out when the pressure is coming.
Entering his third season as starter, Weis said Clausen is where he expected to be when he arrived on campus as the most highly touted recruit in years, famously holding a news conference at the College Football Hall of Fame to announce his commitment and say he was coming to Notre Dame "to try to get four national championship rings."
"He's done everything in practice I could ask him to do. He's developed on and off the field the way I'd want him to develop," Weis said.
The Irish are hoping Clausen can show similar improvement from his sophomore to junior year as Brady Quinn did four years ago when he led the Irish to the first of back-to-back Bowl Championship Series berths.
"We've done all the preparation we could do prior to the game," Weis said. "Now he's got to go out there and do it in front of 80,000 people."
That's true for the entire Irish team. The offensive line and tailbacks have even more to prove because they have not yet shown nearly the promise that Clausen and the receivers have. The same goes for the Irish defense, which ranked 39th in the country last season.
"The biggest thing we're looking forward to is go out on the field Saturday and show everybody what we've been doing up until this point and just prove, with our performance on the field, that we can back up how good we think we're going to be," linebacker Scott Smith said.
Nevada has something to show as well. The Wolf Pack have not done well on the big stage in the past.
Since moving up to the Football Bowl Subdivision in 1992 the Wolf Pack are 2-18 against teams from the Bowl Championship Series conferences, with wins over Washington in 2003 and Northwestern in 2005. Their only win in 15 tries against ranked teams was a 38-35 win over No. 16 Fresno State in 2005.
"This is definitely a great opportunity to get our name out there on the national level and really show the country what Nevada football is about and what we're capable of," quarterback Colin Kaepernick said.
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