The French Quarter swells with provincial pride now, Georgia cackle versus Pennsylvania cool. It is the national title they are talking about, after all.

"Everybody says this is the only bowl game that counts," said Wayne Radloff, Georgia center.

Saturday night in the 49th annual Sugar Bowl, No. 1 Georgia (11-0) will play No. 2 Penn State (10-1) in the Superdome. Herschel Walker seeks his second national title, Joe Paterno his first.

College football has a national championship game (No. 1 versus No. 2) for the sixth time in the 80 years of bowl games.

Oddsmakers insist it's "Penn State by 4." But after 17 seasons as Penn State coach, Paterno knows better. National titles, he's found, don't come easily, if at all. "I don't pay attention to odds," he said. "Nobody knows that much about this game."

The Nittany Lions players are as aware of the fact that Paterno has never won a national title as they are aware of Herschel Walker. "It's a reality. It's something we can't help but think about," said Todd Blackledge, Penn State quarterback.

And, then, there is the matter of Walker. Besides carrying the Georgia football team, Georgia's junior running back now carries the 1982 Heisman Trophy. This season, he ran for 1,752 yards and scored 17 touchdowns.

This is Georgia's third straight appearance in the Sugar Bowl. In 1981, the Bulldogs beat Notre Dame, 17-10, to win the national title. In 1982, the Bulldogs lost to Pittsburgh, 24-20, on Dan Marino's 33-yard touchdown pass to John Brown, a hallelujah heave that came with 35 seconds to play.

In those two Sugar Bowls, Walker rushed for a combined 244 yards and four touchdowns. "Nobody has stopped Herschel yet," said John Lastinger, Georgia quarterback. "We're going to keep using him until somebody does."

The Penn State defense fears not. After all, the Nittany Lions surrounded and stopped last year's Heisman Trophy winner, Marcus Allen, holding him to 85 yards in the 26-10 victory over Southern California in the 1982 Fiesta Bowl.

"Herschel can be stopped and he will be stopped on Jan. 1," said Walker Lee Ashley, Penn State defensive end.

"They say he's the best at his position. I'd like to find out," said Mark Robinson, Penn State safety from John F. Kennedy High in Silver Spring, Md.

"Personally, I'm very tired of hearing about Herschel Walker," said Ken Kelley, Penn State linebacker. "He's going to take a big punishment. There's going to be six guys on him all the time."

Penn State running back Curt Warner, in a voice 1,041 yards strong, said of Walker: "I don't think our guys should threaten the man."

Herschel Walker said, "I think I'm just as ready as they are."

Georgia Coach Vince Dooley compared Penn State to the Pittsburgh national championship team of 1976. "Curt Warner is like Tony Dorsett and Todd Blackledge is like Matt Cavanaugh," Dooley said.

Paterno compared the Georgia offense to Nebraska's run-for-your-life offense of this season. "They'll try to dominate you up front," he said. Further, Paterno compared the Georgia defense to this year's Maryland defense. "Easier to run on than Maryland; tougher to pass against," he said.

Meanwhile, talk swirls about the mini-matchups, such as Georgia's pass defense versus Blackledge. Georgia intercepted 35 passes this season, best in the nation. Rover Terry Hoage led the colleges with 12. He said of his team, "We always find a way to win."

Blackledge threw for 2,218 yards, 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions this season. He knows about pass defenses like Georgia's. "You really have to play with your head screwed on to beat them," Blackledge said. "They are a very opportunistic defense."

The Georgia defense versus the Penn State offense raises interesting perplexities for the Bulldogs. "They are the best balanced offensive football team I've seen," said Dooley.

The Penn State offense has the double-trouble, guess-your-best combination of Blackledge in the air and Warner on the ground.

How balanced an offense? Penn State gained 2,283 yards and 21 touchdowns rushing, 2,369 yards and 22 touchdowns passing. "We've been forced to pass this year more than in the past," said Blackledge, who doesn't seem to mind.

Penn State's only loss this year was at Alabama, 42-21. The Nittany Lions, however, recall another loss to Alabama more vividly and with greater reason: the 14-7 defeat in the 1979 Sugar Bowl. That was another No. 1 versus No. 2 game. That time, though, it was Penn State ranked No. 1 entering the game.

Making Penn State's 1983 Sugar Bowl perspective seem as simple as the number one itself, Warner says, "We know you don't have many chances to win a national championship."