NEW ORLEANS - There’s no question who’s No. 1 to the thousands of purple-and-gold partyers in tiger stripes who packed the Superdome and Bourbon Street.
That LSU will have to share the national title hardly matters.
By holding off Heisman Trophy winner Jason White and Oklahoma 21-14 at the very end Sunday night in the Sugar Bowl, these Tigers certainly proved they belonged in the Bowl Championship Series finale.
‘‘I’m just happy that we could make this state proud,’’ LSU coach Nick Saban said. ‘‘We got tired at the end of the game, but we played from the heart.’’
Now, too bad for college football fans everywhere that there’s not one more game left for No. 2 LSU — against topranked Southern California.
The Tigers automatically received the USA Today/ ESPN coaches’ crown for winning this game over the thirdranked Sooners. But a split championship was the result because top-ranked USC won The Associated Press title with a 28-14 victory over Michigan in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.
Freshman Justin Vincent ran loose for 117 yards and was selected the Sugar Bowl’s most outstanding player, defensive end Marcus Spears scored on an interception return and coach Nick Saban’s team never trailed in bringing LSU its first crown since 1958.
And it was a rewarding win for Saban. He makes $1.5 million, but a clause in his contract said that if he won this game, he was guaranteed $1 more than the highest-paid college coach — Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, at $2.3 million.
All-America Chad Lavalais and his LSU teammates shut down the nation’s top-scoring team for most of the game, extending the jinx that haunted previous Heisman winners such as Chris Weinke, Eric Crouch and Gino Torretta.
‘‘They did what they had to do to win,’’ Saban said. ‘‘We played with our identity.’’
White, who finished 13-for-37 for 102 yards with two interceptions, found his touch in the fourth quarter and led the Sooners down the field in the final minutes. But on fourth down at the LSU 12, White’s pass was tipped and it trickled off the hands of star receiver Mark Clayton in the end zone.
Other Sooners argued, yet Clayton picked up the ball and shook it, knowing his chance had slipped away.
‘‘I just tried to give somebody a chance to catch it,’’ White said. ‘‘He almost caught it.’’
Oklahoma got the ball back once more, and White was sacked on its final play as the LSU band blared yet another version of ‘‘Hold that Tiger!’’
‘‘Too many penalties and the early (bad) tackling is what killed us,’’ Stoops said.
Up to 1 million people were expected to swarm the French Quarter — LSU’s campus in Baton Rouge is only 70 miles away — and the Tigers’ victory brought in Mardi Gras about two months early for those fans.
Inside, a record crowd of 79,342 that slowly made its way through heavy security before the game went crazy cheering for the Tigers (13-1), who finished last season not even ranked in the AP Top 25.
The loss was a bitter one for the Sooners (12-2). They had seethed for nearly a month after their perfect season was wrecked in a humbling 35-7 loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game.
Kejuan Jones scored on two short runs for the Sooners, but their hope for an eighth national title was ruined by untimely penalties and mistakes. Stoops, whose team won the unified championship in 2000, spent as much of the game shouting at the officials as his own team.
Stoops’ brother, Mike, also was on the sidelines. The codefensive coordinator for the Sooners, he spent one more game with the team before taking over full-time as Arizona’s new coach.
Vincent gave a glimpse of what was to come on the very first play from scrimmage. The MVP of the Southeastern Conference championship game juked right, cut back left and galloped up the middle for 64 yards.
The top-scoring team in the country, Oklahoma was blanked in the opening quarter for the first time this season.
Then again, the Tigers were accustomed to such performances. LSU limited opponents to only 10.8 points, the best scoring defense in the nation.