ATLANTA — The LSU locker room was starting to clear out. The No. 1 Tigers had just trounced No. 4 Oklahoma 63-28 in the Peach Bowl semifinal. The Fiesta Bowl semifinal between No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Clemson was just beginning.
LSU linebacker Patrick Queen flashed a grin when he was asked which team he'd prefer to face in the national championship in New Orleans on Jan. 13.
Leaning forward in his locker chair, Queen said he wanted to face his old friend, Clemson running back Travis Etienne.
"I hope my man Travis and them get the win so I can see him on the field, talk a little trash to him," Queen said. "That's my guy."
Queen got his wish within a few hours.
Clemson rallied down 16-0 to beat Ohio State 29-23, and Etienne scored three touchdowns, including the go-ahead 34-yard touchdown reception with less than two minutes remaining.
The 5-foot-10, 210-pound running back graduated from Jennings High, and Etienne first faced Queen in the Class 3A quarterfinals in 2013, when Queen's Livonia Wildcats beat the Bulldogs 25-20.
Queen and Etienne have since kept up — "we're close," Queen said — and the two even played on the same 7-on-7 team in high school.
Saturday morning, Queen said, the two players exchanged messages telling one another "good luck."
Now, the friends will be playing each other in the national championship — the goal they both had when they signed with their storied programs.
"It ain't even hit yet, I ain't gonna lie," Queen said. "I'm still in a little shock right now from winning this one."
Shock may be the appropriate reaction for LSU's season thus far.
The Tigers won 14 games for the first time in school history behind a new age offense that sets a new record each week and a quarterback, Joe Burrow, who won the program's first Heisman Trophy since Billy Cannon won in 1959.
And now, LSU and its Larose native head coach will play for the national championship in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome — the location of LSU's past three national championship appearances.
"Great story," LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. "Obviously, it's going to be a great day, going to be a purple and gold crowd in that Superdome. The state of Louisiana is going to be on fire.
"But all those things don't win the football game for you. We have to prepare. We have to study. We have to be ready to play our best football game."
Burrow said Saturday night that LSU is still chasing the perfect game.
Despite completing 29-of-39 passes for 493 yards and a Peach Bowl record seven touchdowns, the 6-foot-4, 216-pound senior was still miffed about his performance.
"To be honest, it wasn't my sharpest game," said Burrow, who also had five carries for 22 yards and a touchdown against Oklahoma.
It was a similar comment to what Burrow said following LSU's 66-38 win over Vanderbilt in September, when Burrow said it was the "worst game I've played so far" after he set the school record with six touchdown passes in a single game.
Burrow won't have the chance to have that perfect game against Ohio State, the school he transferred from as a graduate before the 2018 season.
Such a match up would have also pitted Orgeron against Ohio State coach Ryan Day, who would have both been coaching in their first national championship game as head coaches.
That hasn't happened since Jimbo Fisher's Florida State beat Gus Malzahn's Auburn 34-31 in the final BCS championship game in 2014.
Instead, Orgeron's program will face Clemson and its head coach, Dabo Swinney, who has taken his Tigers to three of the past four national championships and won two of them.
Orgeron was the defensive line coach at Miami for two national championships in 1989 and 1991, and he held the same position when Southern Cal was named champions by the Associated Press in 2003 (LSU won the BCS championship game that year).
How will he approach the next few weeks now that his program's moment is finally here?
"It will not be any different," Orgeron said. "We won't make it bigger than life. Obviously, we understand the magnitude of the football game, but we're going to focus on the task at hand, the fundamentals, get better. We have an excellent football team. We're going to study our game plan, and we're going to work like we've been and go through the process with confidence."