NEW ORLEANS -- After months of twists, turns, detours, U-turns and upsets, tonight's Bowl Championship Series title game has arrived.
Ohio State (11-1) versus Louisiana State (11-2) in the Superdome is not necessarily the game everyone pined for or expected. USC versus Georgia might have done more to move the applause needle.
Ohio State versus LSU is just the game that happened.
Tonight is the relief you get when the fishing line gets untangled.
Tonight is the BCS at its best and worst.
The system failed and it succeeded.
Neither school deserves to be here and both of them do.
At least both teams had the decency to win their conferences and employ head coaches who have not already taken jobs with other schools -- although it was touch-and-go there for LSU's Les Miles.
Both schools had to count blessings after thinking they had been eliminated from title contention.
Ohio State got knocked from No. 1 to No. 7 after a Nov. 10 home loss to Illinois yet was back at No. 1 three weeks later.
LSU was No. 7 in the BCS standings on the morning of Dec. 1 and No. 2 on the morning of Dec. 2.
Thanks out there to all who made this title game possible: Stanford for stunning USC, South Carolina for beating Georgia, Missouri for beating Kansas, Oklahoma for beating Missouri (twice), Pittsburgh for shocking West Virginia.
Sorry about that knee injury, Dennis Dixon.
One good thing about Ohio State versus LSU is that the game doesn't have to live up to the hype because there isn't much.
And sometimes those are the best kind.
The best player on the field tonight will not be a quarterback, tailback or a receiver. It will be a beefy defensive tackle, Glenn Dorsey of LSU, who will be double- and triple-teamed all night and then move on to the NFL.
You can understand why no one is giving Ohio State much of a chance. The Buckeyes are 0-8 against the Southeastern Conference in bowl games.
Speed killed Ohio State in last year's 41-14 loss to Florida in the title game, and it's expected to kill again.
"You can't expect that to go away within the year," Buckeyes cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said of a reputation. "That's probably not going to go away forever. It's going to be on highlight reels for centuries from now."
LSU players look faster, standing still, in their uniforms than Ohio State players.
For Christmas, Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel gave his players a DVD highlighting all the terrible things TV talking heads were saying about the Buckeyes, and maybe the toughest part was editing it down to 12 minutes.
The basic theme?
"We're a bunch of nobodies who don't amount to nothing," offensive tackle Alex Boone said.
"You turn on ESPN and they start going through the bowls," punter A.J. Trapasso said. "They started doing the mock playoffs and we're out in the first round in almost half of them. It's nothing new. We've heard it all before."
If you think psychology plays into the pregame melange, then maybe Ohio State has a chance.
This is a different premise from last year, when Ohio State was the invincible force cruising into the title game in Glendale, Ariz.
All Ohio State heard for weeks was that it was going to crush Florida, which had edged out Michigan for the No. 2 BCS spot.
The Buckeyes came into the game completely full of themselves and, perhaps consequently, were skewered on a stick.
"This year it's opposite," Boone said. "You're too slow, you're not going to make it, you don't hit hard enough."
This year has more of a 2002 feel. That year, Miami was being talked about as one of the great teams of all time, looking to repeat as national champion. The title opponent in that year's Fiesta Bowl was Ohio State, which had no chance of dealing with Miami's tremendous speed.
The game took a completely different turn, with Ohio State pulling off a stunning, double-overtime upset.
Ohio State won the BCS title that season and, a year later, LSU won it.
Four years later, they're playing each other for it.
With 20-year-old kids on your roster, being the prohibitive favorite is not necessarily a good thing.
Having a rallying cry is better, as Miles would attest.
"It's hard to believe that the No. 1 team in the nation, 11 victories, walks in with an underdog moniker on their back," the LSU coach said of Ohio State. "I promise we're not planning to face an appreciably weaker team."
It remains unclear what winning tonight's game will prove.
LSU would become the first two-loss BCS champion. A truly ugly outcome might provoke ideas about Georgia or USC perhaps stealing a title share by claiming the independent Associated Press poll championship.
That seems doubtful. It would require elevating Georgia, a two-loss team that didn't win its division of the SEC, over the two-loss school that did win the SEC.
The argument for USC sharing anything except a season-ending toast begins and ends with an unforgivable loss to Stanford.
An Ohio State win would give the Buckeyes a relatively undisputed joy ride into the off-season -- unless someone from Kansas pipes up.