Bradley Handwerger / Sports Reporter
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NEW ORLEANS ― Nearly seven months ago, Jordan Jefferson sat with reporters during his session at the Manning Passing Academy and exuded confidence.

He was positive he'd be the starter heading into the 2011 season, saying so that July day.

A little more than a month later, Jefferson was at the center of attention but for all the wrong reasons.

Mired in legal proceeding surrounding his role in a bar fight, Jefferson was at his lowest point, booted from the team until the case was resolved.

But with those depths came something else. Not necessarily for Jefferson, but for LSU.

A bonding, a hardening to outside criticism that, come Monday night, could blossom into the Tigers' third national championship since the turn of the millennium.

'I think it helped us for the most part,' LSU linebacker Ryan Baker said. 'We had a negative image coming into the season and the whole mindset of this team is really to prove ourselves. Having another chip on our shoulder kind of fueled the fire. We've used that throughout the season.'

Yes it did.

The Tigers (13-0) are one win against Alabama (11-1) away from becoming the first LSU team since 1958 to finish the season undefeated.

They'd do it against one of the toughest schedules in recent memory, with wins coming over three top three teams and five victories over teams ranked in the top 25 at the time away from Tiger Stadium.

And all of that happened despite Jefferson's early season shenanigans and several players being suspended for the Auburn game for breaking team rules.

'One thing that we love is to have our backs up against the wall,' LSU running back Spencer Ware said. 'When we think we have nothing left, it's almost like having a second wind. With all the things that have happened, it only made us better.'

Yet, Monday night's game could mean more to Jefferson than any other player on LSU's roster.

He has been a lightning rod for criticism for much of his career, playing both brilliantly and poorly

His legal issues only brought more heat.

Cleared midseason, though, he returned to the field on a rotating basis with Jarrett Lee. Finally, in the 9-6 overtime win against Alabama, he took over for good.

Now he only hopes the BCS title game goes like the last title game he played in the Superdome when he led Destrehan to a 5A state title and a 15-0 record in 2007.

Maybe more than any other stadium, Jefferson holds the Superdome in his esteem.

'It's something I would call a sanctuary for me,' said Jefferson, sounding more humble than seven months earlier. 'I'm preparing myself to have a great game on Monday and just rekindle that flame that I had in high school when I left here.'

And if something goes wrong Monday night, Jefferson is prepared.

'I feel like I'm more prepared because what I went through before the season was a tremendous amount of adversity, more than that could be compared to what would happen to me on the field as far as throwing a pick or fumbling the ball,' he said. 'It's quite easy for me to overcome a situation like that being through a situation like I've been through at the beginning of the season.'

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