Jordan Jefferson's season started with trouble off the field and ended with trouble on it.
''It feels like a nightmare, but it's a learning experience,'' Jefferson said after LSU's 21-0 loss in Monday night's BCS title game. ''I'm facing reality. LSU finished second today. We all have to take the situation and learn from it, but still in all we still had a great season. I had a pretty good career at LSU. This last game really was something we wanted to win, but we fell short.''
One more victory in the final game of his career could have transformed Jefferson's legacy at LSU and completed a stirring story of personal vindication after an early season defined by an arrest stemming from a bar fight and resulting four-game suspension.
Instead, he was booed by LSU fans as the Tigers' title shot slipped away. His most memorable play was an unfathomable interception. One of the most notable aspects of LSU's offensive performance was that the Tigers were shut out for the first time since the Tide did it to them in 2002.
''I was seeing everything clearly. Making decisions wasn't an issue,'' Jefferson said. ''We just didn't get it done on offense. Some defenses have your number and Alabama had our number.''
Jefferson finished 11 of 17 for 53 yards. He tossed one interception that could have been far more costly than it was, yet seemed to symbolize his night.
Unable to find a receiver, Jefferson began to scramble, then changed his mind, flipping the ball forward toward Spencer Ware just as the running back had turned to block. There might have been room to run if Jefferson had kept the ball and followed Ware. Instead, the ball floated right over the head of the unsuspecting Ware and into the waiting arms of linebacker C.J. Mosley. Jefferson immediately made the tackle, which left Mosley injured and also gave the Tide the ball on the LSU 27.
Only a missed field goal try prevented even more damage. But that only allowed LSU to maintain a slim chance of a comeback - which was gone once Jefferson was sacked and fumbled on a critical fourth-and-long with a little over 6 minutes left and the Tide leading 15-0.
LSU managed only five first downs and each seemed like an epic struggle. The Tigers were outgained 384-92, and their running game, which consists in part of Jefferson's option runs, managed a meager 39 yards after averaging 215 yards in its previous 13 games.
Jefferson had to try to beat 'Bama with his arm, but instead took the punishment of four sacks while struggling to connect with receivers.
''It's hard making those plays when you don't have the protection up front,'' receiver Rueben Randle said. ''They brought a lot of blitzes. We didn't pick it up and make the reads we needed to make. When we do that, our offense really can't get rolling. ... I don't think it would have mattered who was back there.''
Jefferson was suspended because of his alleged involvement in a bar fight in late August. He was initially arrested on a charge of second-degree battery and suspended a little more than a week before the season was set to begin.
He was reinstated four games into the season when a grand jury reduced the charge to a misdemeanor, and took back over as starter in the 10th game.
He continued to struggle intermittently, particularly in the first half of the Southeastern Conference title game against Georgia, but with LSU ultimately winning the SEC crown behind a dominant defense and running game, Jefferson was never forced to beat anyone throwing until the national title game. His 684 yards passing and six touchdowns coming into the rematch with the Tide looked more like the product of efficient and fittingly conservative quarterback play on a team that did not really need to throw much to win.
But when LSU's running game got bogged down in the biggest test of the season, there was no answer in the passing game.
Jefferson finished his career 24-8 as a starter, seven wins short of Tommy Hodson's LSU-high.
''He's been through a lot,'' Randle said. ''You've got to give it to him. He kept pushing. He came back off the suspension and led us to the national championship (game). We just weren't quite as good as we needed to be to win this game.''