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 NEW ORLEANS (AP) -Barely more than a week ago, LSU running back Jacob Hester was at home in Shreveport for a late Thanksgiving celebration, telling family and friends that he didn't want to talk about or watch football.
Sunday night, Hester found himself in a crowd of teammates in Baton Rouge, chanting: ``We're going to the ship!''
That would be ``ship,'' as in BCS Championship in New Orleans on Jan. 7.
LSU's world turned on its head in less than 48 hours last weekend.
``Going into the SEC Championship, nobody was giving us a shot to be in the national championship,'' Hester said. ``Coach Miles kept telling us that we still had a shot.
``He kept saying that we were the only team considered that hadn't lost a game in regulation. He said the voters would see that. We just went out and won the SEC Championship. Who would have known that we would have a shot? It's just crazy right now.''
It began early Saturday afternoon, when coach Les Miles held an unprecedented press conference only hours before kickoff in the SEC championship game, denying reports that he was heading Michigan and asserting that he had no interest in leaving LSU.
The Tigers went on to beat Tennessee before getting what is known down here as lagniappe (an unexpected bonus or something extra).
Both West Virginia and Missouri lost later Saturday night, setting the stage for Sunday night's announcement that LSU had jumped from seventh to second in the BCS standings. It meant that the second-ranked Tigers (11-2) would be coming to New Orleans, but not for their second consecutive Sugar Bowl as they initially expected. Instead, they'll play No. 1 Ohio State (11-1) a week later.
The announcement set off celebrations in Baton Rouge and throughout the state. In the Louisiana Superdome, where the game will be played, a number of New Orleans Saints suite holders stuck around after a crushing defeat to Tampa Bay on Sunday to watch the BCS selection coverage on television. Their cheers echoed throughout the mostly empty and darkened 70,000-seat stadium when LSU's selection was announced.
The Superdome has become the Tigers' home away from home, even when they play what are technically road games against Tulane.
Since the 2001 season, LSU has played in three Sugar Bowls in the Superdome - once for the BCS title after the 2003 season. The Tigers won all of those games before crowds dominated by LSU fans in a building that stands only 90-minute drive southeast along the Mississippi River from Tiger Stadium.
They also beat the Green Wave there this year, 34-9 on Sept. 29.
Miles said the Tigers' affection for playing in New Orleans grew even stronger last season, when they dismantled Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl's return to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina forced the bowl game's relocation to Atlanta in January 2006.
``It was a tremendously honored feeling. There were so many that supported us and came up to us to share stories of Katrina,'' Miles said. ``I think that our team, and certainly I did, grew a stronger attachment to New Orleans, not just with the game but with the week and the time that we spent down there.
``I look forward to spending similar time down there. I know that our guys could not have picked a better outcome for us. We suspect that we will be very comfortable in those surroundings.''
LSU now must wait about five weeks before kicking off against Ohio State. Team activities will be limited during the next two weeks, which are the final two weeks of classes for LSU's fall semester.
The Tigers will get back to full practices after that, and when they do, the defense is expected to remain temporarily under the direction of Bo Pelini, even though he's already been named Nebraska's new head coach for 2008.
And of course, they'll all continue taking orders from Miles, who still gets to coach against Ohio State in a big game, even if he's not heading off to Michigan after all.
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