- Ivan Maisel, ESPN Senior Writer
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NEW ORLEANS -- The following story is fictitious. Any relation to any football game, living or dead, is purely coincidental, thanks to a college football postseason that produces the wrong game as easily as Krispy Kreme rolls out donuts.
No animals were harmed in the making of this story, least of all the Tigers of LSU, who dominated Oklahoma, 21-14, to win the BCS version of the national championship, the first for LSU in 45 years.
NEW ORLEANS -- The Sugar Bowl delivered what everyone had hoped -- a match of wits between USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow and the LSU defense of head coach Nick Saban. The game hinged upon whether Trojan sophomore quarterback Matt Leinart would have enough time to find receivers Mike Williams, Keary Colbert and, out of the backfield, freshman Reggie Bush.
The Tigers, who shut down the best passing offenses in the Southeastern Conference -- and in the case of Georgia, more than once -- confused Leinart early with zone blitzes. The pressure forced Leinart into an early mistake. Tiger corner Corey Webster pounced on a short-armed pass by Leinart and returned it 45 yards down the left sideline to give LSU an early 7-0 lead.
However, Leinart, resorting to three-step drops, moved the Trojans 76 yards in seven plays in the second quarter, tying the score on a 15-yard touchdown pass to Colbert in the back of the end zone.
USC moved ahead with a field goal before the half, set up when linebacker Dallas Sartz blocked a Donnie Jones punt to give the Trojans the ball at the LSU 25. The Tigers held...
A guy can dream, can't he?
LSU didn't win pretty. The Tigers committed three turnovers and had another two called back because of Oklahoma penalties. They gave up a touchdown when the Sooners blocked a punt and recovered it at the LSU 2, and just when it seemed as if the Tigers had stomped the life out of the Sooners, Matt Mauck threw a pass right to Oklahoma nickel back Brodney Pool, who returned it 49 yards to the LSU 31. Oklahoma scored to pull within 21-14 with 11:01 to play.
But oh, that Tiger defense. The Oklahoma offense looked helpless for 60 minutes. The Sooner defense kept setting up the offense, only to get no payoff. Maybe quarterback Jason White has an aversion to purple. Kansas State routed Oklahoma. LSU never let the Sooners get started.
Williams College is trying to get the Sooners on the phone. The Purple Cows have an open date in September.
It's fitting that the Tiger defense scored what proved to be the winning touchdown. On the second play of the second half, defensive end Marcus Spears dropped into coverage and had the presence of mind to catch the ball when White threw it right to him. The 6-foot-4, 297-pound Spears returned the pick, his first of the season and only the third of his career, 20 yards for a touchdown. LSU led, 21-7.
LSU held Oklahoma to 154 total yards, 307 yards less than the Sooners' average.
Oklahoma's longest drive went 49 yards and ended on four incomplete passes from the LSU 12 with 2:46 to play.
The Sooners didn't have a running back rush for more than 9 yards on any one play.
In the second quarter, Oklahoma ran 12 plays for a total of minus-3 yards.
Over four quarters, LSU pulled off an impressive stunt. They made Pittsburgh wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald look like the Heisman Trophy winner. White, who really won the Heisman, completed 13-of-37 passes for 102 yards. "I said to him, 'Excuse me, Mr. Heisman. I'm going to be coming at you all night,'" said end Marquise Hill, who had one of the Tigers' five sacks.
OK OK, you can't paint a picture of the LSU defense by the numbers. It doesn't do it justice. Look in the margins. Try to see the gray areas. Imagine the Tiger defense against that Trojan offense. See that front four, anchored by All-American defensive tackle Chad Lavalais, trying to get to Leinart, who was sacked only 15 times in 13 games.
"They would get whipped," Lavalais said, then he giggled.
"Don't write that," he continued. "It would be a great game. LSU playing USC. Two great teams."
Picture Webster, who made a slew of first- and second-All American teams, lining up against Williams, a fellow All-American.
No, thanks, Webster said. "We're ready for it to be over."
Not everyone agrees. In fact, one coach who played both LSU and USC kind of wishes it wasn't over just yet.
"It's a shame that they're not playing each other," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said the other day. "It's just not right. You can't lose your conference championship and expect to win the national championship. It just doesn't sit right."
Tuberville, whose Tigers lost to USC, 23-0, on Aug. 30, then lost at LSU, 31-7, on Oct. 25, subscribes to the theory that it does matter when you lose.
"Losing early has always been the key because you're not as good as you are (early as you are) at the end of the year," he said.
Both LSU and USC lost early, then gathered steam. Tuberville compared their defenses, which held his Tigers to a combined total of 357 yards.
"I don't know a lot about USC," Tuberville said, referring to the fact that his team played the Trojans 12 games ago. "I can't imagine them being much better than LSU. LSU has got tremendous skill players, along with defensive linemen. Obviously, LSU and USC were the two best defenses we played. I didn't think we would play a better defense than USC. I was hoping not. They're fast, physical. We couldn't get back to the line of scrimmage."
Someone told Lavalais that some USC players said they wouldn't even watch the Sugar Bowl.
"I could care less," he said. "I don't live out on the West Coast. I could talk bad about those guys, but I'm not. Do I think they deserve a share of it? Yeah. It's unfortunate. The No. 1 team didn't get to play here. That's the system."
So, then, you're comfortable with being co-national champions?
"If you have to share Powerball with one other person," Lavalais said, "that's still a good deal. We won't put co-national champion on our rings....The media can say co-national champions. When I tell my friends, I'll say we're national champions. We're national champions in this part of the country."
The debate will fade. Around 1 a.m., CST, the results of the polls made it official. LSU and USC will be together in 2003 forever and ever. It's a question without an answer.
In the end, the Trojans defense forced Mauck into one mistake too many. Kenichi Udeze's second sack of Mauck forced a fumble that safety Jason Leach recovered at the LSU 37. On the next play, Leinart found Williams for the game-clinching touchdown. The Trojans' 17-10 victory gave them the national championship...
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
2dAndrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna