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LSU seems calm but fans are ecstatic

12/7/2003 - LSU Tigers

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Even a berth in college football's
national championship game registered only a brief smile Sunday on
LSU coach Nick Saban's face. Instead of oozing excitement, Saban
continued to talk about focus.

"We've got to win 13 games now," Saban said about the Tigers
matchup with Oklahoma in the Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl, the Bowl
Championship Series' top game.

Even two of LSU's star players -- quarterback Matt Mauck and
defensive tackle Chad Lavalais -- managed to appear low-key about
the Tigers' vault into the title game, despite the controversy
surrounding the BCS. Mauck said he and the players felt a "little
bit of relief to know the hard work finally paid off."

Mauck wasn't even with his fellow players when the news came
down, skipping the team meeting to watch an on-campus play for one
of his classes.

"You have to be eligible to be able to get to the bowl games,"
he joked.

With three one-loss teams vying for the Sugar Bowl, the
contenders were chosen through a complicated ranking system
involving polls and computers that promised to create sore feelings
for whichever team -- in this case Southern California -- didn't get
to the game at the New Orleans Superdome.

Despite Southern California's ranking as No. 1 in the human
polls and Oklahoma's loss in its own conference championship, the
Sooners hung onto their spot in the Sugar Bowl. LSU's 34-13 victory
in the Southeastern Conference championship against Georgia locked
the Tigers' place.

It could mean split national champions, and it ensures more
chaos for the BCS.

"The system was exposed a little bit this year for whatever
reason. There are three teams that everyone can make an argument
and justification for the opportunity to play for the national
championship, and the number one team in the polls (USC) is not
going to have the opportunity to do that," Saban said.

But Mauck isn't apologizing to any team for getting the chance
to play in the Sugar Bowl.

"When you win the SEC, which I think is the toughest conference
in the nation, and you go 12-1, I don't see how we should be
apologetic at all," he said, while acknowledging the result of the
BCS system this season "is kind of messed up."

Lavalais refused to speculate on whether the BCS worked
properly.

"Of course, I'm glad to be playing in the Sugar Bowl and to be
playing for a chance at a national title. Did it work out or not?
The media will decide that," he said.

In Louisiana, talk almost immediately moved from the BCS to how
to get what could arguably be one of the toughest tickets in
college football history, with LSU's chances for its first national
championship title in more than four decades pinned to what will be
essentially a home game for the Tigers.

"My phone has been ringing, and I know I have at least 10
missed calls already, people calling me asking me for tickets. I
can only imagine what it will be like on Jan. 4," Lavalais said.

LSU sophomore Laura Cancienne, 20, was one of a small group of
students camped out Sunday evening hoping to get their names on a
list for tickets, only to be told there would be a student lottery.

"I'm so pumped. It's so awesome. It's a once in a lifetime
opportunity, and I'm glad I get to be here for it," Cancienne
said.

LSU Athletic Director Skip Bertman didn't want to talk about
tickets Sunday, saying the outline of how they would be doled out
would come another day. But he did offer a brief assessment of the
difficulty.

"Obviously, solving the problem of world hunger would be a
little easier than trying to get enough tickets," he said.