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LSU coach celebrates national title, but aims for more

NEW ORLEANS - Flanked by his team's four gleaming national championship trophies, LSU coach Les Miles was already looking for more.

'I have the next year plan right here,' Miles said, drawing laughs from reporters and LSU hangers-on at a morning news conference. 'The next year plan, OK, first of all, we expect to be a very strong football team.'

Next year can wait. On Tuesday, Miles and most of this city celebrated LSU's second Bowl Championship Series title, earned the night before in a decisive 38-24 victory over previously top-ranked Ohio State in the Superdome.

At an early morning celebration, Miles stood on the balcony of a French Quarter hotel and raised a replica of the BCS trophy to delirious fans on Bourbon Street.

At about 9 a.m., Miles answered his cell phone and heard an unfamiliar female voice.

'She said, 'Please hold for the president of the United States,' Miles said. 'I went, 'OK.'

'He was just very kind, very complimentary of our team. He just said, 'I watched your team, your team overcame hurdles.'

Miles will soon be making a few important calls of his own. He'll be on the recruiting trail, looking for talent to keep the Tigers among the national elite.

'I can promise you that it's a little early to say we have it all figured out,' Miles said. 'But the goals will be the same. The goals will be 100 percent graduation rate and a national championship. And I suspect this team will fight like heck to get that done.'

LSU's passionate legions expect the Tigers to win the national title every year. Reality is harsher, but LSU (12-2) has become the first two-time champion in the 10-year history of the BCS and the first to lose two games in a championship season.

There are many reasons to believe the Tigers will be in the hunt again in 2008. Although they lose quarterback Matt Flynn, tailback Jacob Hester and defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, the Tigers have plenty of players eager to step in.

A trio of sophomores helped lead the charge against Ohio State - tight end Richard Dickson, who caught two touchdown passes; wide receiver Brandon LaFell, who also caught a touchdown pass; and defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois, named the game's Most Outstanding Defensive Player after blocking an Ohio State field goal attempt.

The Tigers overcame an early 10-0 deficit, reeling off 31 unanswered points in a little more than 23 minutes.

'They understand what being pinned down means,' Miles said. 'They understand what it takes to come back and fight and overcome hurdles. I think this game was not unlike other games we played all year long.'

Some would say the Tigers have taken on the coach's feistiness. Miles is the new king of the bayou, a position held by Nick Saban after he led the Tigers to the 2003 BCS title.

Saban became reviled among many LSU followers when he bolted for the NFL's Miami Dolphins. Miles' stature grew when he passed on a chance to coach at Michigan, his alma mater.

Now he's given LSU fans another reason to revere him.

'I have to be honest, it's not sunk in yet,' Miles said.

Miles replaced Saban after the 2004 season. In his first two years at LSU, Miles thought the Tigers were good enough to contend for the national title. Both times they went 11-2 and fell short.

LSU lost two games again this year. But as a wild college football season played out and other contenders fell, the Tigers found themselves with an unexpected shot at the national title, and they didn't waste it.

Miles brushed aside talk that other teams - including USC and Georgia - also deserved a chance to play for the title.

University of Georgia president Michael Adams released a proposal for an eight-team college football playoff on Tuesday. Miles said he thought his team would fare well in such a scheme, but he didn't have to indulge in what-ifs. He had plenty of actual hardware to tote back to Baton Rouge.

'It's nice that there's no indecision,' Miles said. 'There's one national champion.

'I don't know if there's not more talented teams. But I can promise you this: this by far and away is the finest football team this year.'

LSU was a runaway No. 1 in the final Associated Press poll. The Tigers received 60 of 65 first-place votes from a national media panel. Georgia, Southern California, Missouri and Ohio State rounded out the top five. Georgia had three first-place votes while Southern California and No. 7 Kansas each had one.

SideBar: GWINNETT IN THE BOWLS

Win or lose, it was a distinguished bowl season for college football players from Gwinnett County. Here are some of the top performances:

Larry Grant, Ohio State

The senior linebacker from Norcross was in on eight tackles and knocked down a pass on a blitz during the Buckeyes' 38-24 loss to LSU in the BCS Championship Game. Unfortunately, it was the fourth consecutive loss in a national title game for Grant, two with Ohio State and two with San Francisco City College.

Cameron Heyward, Ohio State

The freshman All-American defensive tackle from Peachtree Ridge was in on three tackles against LSU, including a solo stop for a loss. He also broke up a pass.

Justin Roper, Oregon

Making his first college start, the redshirt freshman from Buford threw four

touchdown passes in the Ducks' 56-21 victory over South Florida in the Sun Bowl. He was 17-for-30 for 180 yards and didn't have an interception.

Brandon Coutu, Georgia

The senior from Collins Hill was 2-for-2 on field goals in the Bulldogs' 41-10 victory over Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl, connecting from 52 and 45 yards. SEC teams went 7-2 in bowl games.

Rennie Curran, Georgia

The freshman linebacker from Brookwood was in on seven tackles against Hawaii, two of them for losses. The Bulldogs

(11-2) finished No. 2 in the media poll and No. 3 in the coaches' poll.

Tyler Donaldson, New Mexico

The senior defensive end from Central Gwinnett was in on six tackles and shared a sack as the Lobos blanked Nevada 23-0 in the New Mexico Bowl to finish 9-4. He was an All-Mountain West Conference choice for the second year in a row.

Chad Hall, Air Force

The versatile senior from Wesleyan had 179 all-purpose yards and a 4-yard touchdown run in Air Force's 42-36 loss to California in the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth. He had 63 yards on 19 carries, caught four passes for 36 yards and gained 80 yards on four kickoff returns.

Micah Andrews, Wake Forest

The senior running back from Greater Atlanta Christian rushed for 64 yards on nine carries - all in the fourth quarter - and scored the clinching touchdown from the 9-yard-line with 29 seconds remaining as the Deacons beat Connecticut in the Meineke Bowl at Charlotte.

Brad Lester, Auburn

The junior from Parkview had 57 yards on 14 carries and caught three passes for 24 yards in Auburn's 23-20 overtime victory over Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Rod Smith, Auburn

The junior from South Gwinnett caught four passes for 45 yards against Clemson. He was the leading receiver on the season for Auburn, which finished 9-4.

- From staff reports