Janet McConnaughey, Associated Press
Alabama students, from left to right, Maggie Price, of Washington, Leah Laird, of Opp, Ala., Audrey Akin, of Birmingham, Ala., and Hunter Tate, of Jasper, Ala., leave the Superdome happy after scoring third-row seats for the BCS Championship NCAA college football game against LSU, Monday, Jan. 9, 2012, in New Orleans. They'd bought student tickets online, but had to pick them up at the Dome _ and it was first come, first served for the best seats. Behind them, hundreds of other Alabama students wait in line for their tickets.

NEW ORLEANS — LSU and Alabama fans got an early start Monday as emotions built ahead of the BCS national championship game at the Superdome.

Alabama fans started lining up at the stadium shortly after dawn to pick up tickets.

Hunter Tate, a political science major from Jasper, Ala., found dozens ahead of him when he arrived around 7 a.m. He and several friends bought their student tickets online. It was first-come, first-served for the best seats at the Superdome ticket windows.

The early bird snagged a prize. "Third row," he gloated. Hundreds of students were still in line as he and his friends headed toward the French Quarter about 9:30 a.m. Tate was thinking about a nap.

The Monday night game features the nation's two top-ranked college teams in a rematch of a November game won by LSU.

Tailgating got an early start, too, with team banners flying and tents set up by competing contingents at the stadium and in nearby parking lots.

An LSU contingent was two hours ahead of Tate, waiting for the parking lot to open at 5 a.m.

"We were here bright and early. Or dark and early," graduate business student Nathan Louque said as he sliced andouille to make gumbo for at least 200 people.

"Did you notice we have 10 kegs?" asked chemical engineering student Adam Keller. Both are from Lutcher, La., about midway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

"We debated whether it was enough," Louque said.

Including parking, 40 pounds of pulled pork, and snacks, it all cost about $1,500, they said. They hoped to recoup some of that by selling $10 wristbands good for unlimited food and drink to people who hadn't chipped in.

Attorney John Holmes of Montgomery, Ala., was heading away from the Superdome to change out of his Alabama cap and jacket to tailgate with some LSU alumni, including his wife.

"I didn't do my due diligence," he said with a laugh.

For those who couldn't get tickets, the nearby French Quarter was an appealing destination where people could find a bar or restaurant to catch the game on television.

"We'll probably find a bar — somewhere in the Quarter, I'm sure," said Lee Mallette of Birmingham, Ala., a marketing and management student. "If we could scoop up a ticket, it'd be great."