Notre Dame’s season this year will depend on how well junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen performs.

The California blond QB is bigger, taller, and stronger than his freshman and sophomore years -- but the big questions will be can he have a Heisman type year and live up to the hype that has surrounded him since Sports Illustrated and other media pegged him as the next Joe Namath when he was still in high school?

Remember the hype? Quarterback of the decade, the most highly recruited quarterback for the Fighting Irish since Ron Powlus? Then came the shattering freshman season when he was clearly playing hurt and last season’s mixed results which ended however in a  great bowl performance against Hawaii – who admittedly were very weak opposition.

Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis has treated  Clausen like precious cargo during previous pre-season scrimmage, but this year apparently the word has been out  to harden him up in the pre-season scrimmages and let him be hit.

Clausen has had problems with the pass rush since his freshman year and his inability to escape the rush has cost his team dearly.

The key games for Clausen and Weiss will be Boston College at home, USC, Michigan and Michigan State. If the Irish win three of those four, they will be on their way to a very good season and a definite major bowl game. If  they win all four, they could well be headed of  an unbeaten season and national championship.

Clausen will have to show something special for Weiss to survive. Both men are dependent on each other this year. Another poor year will definitely see Weiss gone and Clausen’s hopes for a lucrative pro career will likely be in ruins also.

Clausen has never quite gelled at Notre Dame like say Brady Quinn who was enormously popular as well as a big man on campus. Maybe it had to do with Clausen showing up in a stretch Hummer and wearing four rings when he was recruited. Flash and dash don’t go well at Notre Dame.

If he proves injury prone again expect sophomore Dayne Crist to  take over as starting quarterback. However if Clausen lives  to the hype then Notre Dame could be on their way to a national title with a first round pro pick quarterback at the helm. Which is it to be? Only time can tell.