James Gilbert grew up as a standout running back in Indianapolis.
He paid close attention to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Pretty much everybody in the state did.
Now, Gilbert is a junior at Ball State, whose campus is about 150 miles from the Fighting Irish's home in South Bend. And he will be a key player as the mid-major Cardinals try to upset an in-state powerhouse.
No. 8 Notre Dame (1-0) will host Ball State (1-0) on Saturday in the first meeting between the schools. The Cardinals will be the 146th opponent to play the Fighting Irish and the 77th in Notre Dame Stadium.
"As a kid, I watched Notre Dame football, so for me it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get to play against them and go to their stadium, because I've never been there," said Gilbert, who ran for 100 yards and a touchdown in a 42-6 win over Central Connecticut State in the opener. "We're pumped, we're going to celebrate this win, then get back to work for Notre Dame."
It will not be an easy task.
The Fighting Irish jumped four spots in the rankings after a 24-17 win over Michigan, which entered the season opener ranked No. 14 in the nation. Notre Dame produced four scoring drives while limiting the Wolverines to only 58 yards rushing on 33 carries.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said his players could not afford to let up after a big win.
"We have a standard," Kelly said. "They know what the standard is, and they have met that standard for the last eight months. They know the standard that we have here, what our mission is, what our process is, and we'll continue to reiterate that on a day-to-day basis.
"We play Ball State, but for them it's a nameless, faceless opponent in the way they go to work every day. They'll know Ball State's scheme. They'll know their players. They'll know tactically what they need to do, but overriding that is the standard they have to live up to as a program on a day-to-day basis."
Ball State is flying high after generating 652 yards of offense -- a school record -- in its season opener. The Cardinals compiled 336 yards in the air and 316 yards on the ground.
Notre Dame also showed plenty to like on offense. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush showcased his athleticism with 170 passing yards and a touchdown to go along with 59 rushing yards and running back Jafar Armstrong rushed for a pair of touchdowns.
"He did a lot of things on the football field for a first start," Kelly said of Armstrong. "He returned kicks. He was catching the football. He was picking up blitzers. He was running the football. He was in a number of different alignments. So, we asked a lot for a first-time starter, so I think all that versatility in itself is quite a load, and I think he handled it very well with a great demeanor."
Both teams also looked good on the defensive side, with Ball State maintaining a shutout until late in the game against Central Connecticut State. Notre Dame forced two turnovers against Michigan and finished with three sacks while limiting the Wolverines to 1.8 yards per carry.
Nine Notre Dame defenders logged at least four tackles in the season opener. The list included linebacker Te'Von Coney, who made 10 tackles to push him past 200 in his career. He also recovered a fumble, strengthening his status on the Butkus Award Watch List as the nation's top linebacker.
Ball State coach Mike Neu said his players should embrace the bright lights and big stage in South Bend. Forty-nine players on the team, including Gilbert, are from Indiana and know the Fighting Irish well.
"It's going to be cool to go to South Bend," Neu said. "I don't know how many times I've watched 'Rudy.' It's a well-known national program. I grew up watching them as a kid. What a great opportunity for our guys to go in there and play on one of the biggest stages that exists."