Bill Haber, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — Jordan Jefferson remembers nearly every second of the last time he played in the Superdome.
He was the starting quarterback for Destrehan High School, and like so many kids growing up in Louisiana, was awed to be playing in New Orleans' football palace. By the end of the night, he'd led his school to its first state championship in 34 years.
"I've been in the Superdome quite often," said Jefferson, who will try to wrap up his college career with another title Monday night, when he leads top-ranked LSU against No. 2 Alabama in the BCS title game. "I mean, it's something that I would call a sanctuary for me."
There's a bunch of Tigers who would say that.
The landmark structure just an hour's drive down Interstate 10 from the LSU campus in Baton Rouge is tantamount to a home-field advantage, even though it's supposed to be a neutral venue.
LSU players are hoping that 90 percent of the seats are filled with purple and gold, while the Crimson Tide would be content with a 60-40 split in favor of the SEC champs.
Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain went so far as to say he's treating it like a road game.
"I mean, I think it's going to be really loud in there," McElwain said. "Obviously we're a little on their home turf, so yes, it's an approach like we're on the road."
The Tigers are 13-4 all-time in the Superdome, winning their last nine games dating to a 30-15 loss to Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1987.
Along the way, a team led by current Alabama coach Nick Saban knocked off Oklahoma to win the 2003 national championship, and another led by Les Miles beat Ohio State to win the 2007 title.
"I think that our players need to understand that any time you play at a neutral site or any time you play on the road it's very challenging," Saban said earlier this week.
It's not just the Superdome that's been home sweet dome, though.
The Tigers beat then-No. 2 Oregon at Cowboys Stadium to open the season, and then ran their record to 9-1 at the Georgia Dome when they romped to a 42-10 win over Georgia in the SEC title game.
But the famous, saucer-shaped stadium in New Orleans, just a short walk from the French Quarter and the craziness of Bourbon Street, holds special meaning to so many on the LSU roster.
It depends a little on how you count, but some 74 players list their hometowns from Louisiana. Nine of them are from New Orleans, including Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu, tight end Deangelo Peterson, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and offensive lineman P.J. Lonergan.
"It's surreal feeling for me. It's everything I've hoped and dreamed of, and it's finally here," Beckham said. "The feeling, I can't even explain it."
The BCS system attempts to level the playing field.
Each team receives 17,000 tickets to the game, with the roughly 38,000 remaining divided among Sugar Bowl season-ticket holders, corporate sponsors and the 125-person Sugar Bowl committee.
But there's no way to know how many tickets LSU faithful have snapped up on the secondary market — at least, until Monday night comes, and an expected crowd of 72,000 filters through the turnstiles.
"They probably feel like it's a home advantage for them," conceded Alabama safety Mark Barron, "because it's their home state."
Several of the Tigers besides Jefferson played high school games on the floor of the 36-year-old arena, where state titles are bestowed each December.
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