The most obvious way to answer this is to use the computer polls. I chose the Colley Matrix, which is part of the BCS formula, since it has a characteristic that makes comparing teams year-to-year straightforward. All teams in this computer poll are inherently normalized to a rating of 0.5, which makes comparisons year-to-year much more valid.
Here's what it looks like (pre-bowl games for both years):
|Year||Ranking||Rating||Record||Strength of Schedule||Schedule Rank||Best win|
First off, it is clear that the team was much better this year. The rating differential of 0.154 is the same as the differential between 2008 Ohio State and 2008 Cal - clearly a big step forward.
Secondly, the "weak schedule" of 2008 turned out to be not-so-weak: it was a lot tougher than the 86th-ranked "mighty SEC" schedule played by Alabama, for example. Tougher than 6 of the top 10 teams in 2008 in fact.
Yes, the team still looked inept at times. And the loss to Syracuse was frankly unforgivable. But there were also many bright spots in 2008 as well. Michael Floyd and Golden Tate are going to be one of the best WR tandems in the country next year. The defense improved. Claussen looked better. Special teams looked better, with even Brandon Walker finishing the year strong.
In the end, I'm glad Charlie is staying for another year. The last thing ND needs is to hit the reset button on the program without having locked up a great successor. Willingham was fired because Urban Meyer was on the market, and ND failed to land him, so we have Weis. There is no Urban Meyer out there this year. Until there is a can't-miss candidate available, and it is clear that he will actually take the ND job, Weis is the better option.