When the Florida State football team arrived at New Orleans International Airport late this afternoon, the first person off the plane was a police officer. When the Seminoles arrived at their hotel, they met with representatives from a private security firm. When they went to bed, there were guards posted in the hallways outside their rooms, checking special identification badges.

If anyone from Florida State gets into trouble as the top-ranked Seminoles prepare to play No. 2 Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 4, it won't be because of a lack of precaution.

"Have you read the paper about us? Do you think we'll survive New Orleans?" Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden joked, referring to a series of off-field incidents this season that have landed several Seminoles players in police custody. "I don't know, it's going to be close, isn't it? But really, it's not just New Orleans. With young people, every big city can jump out and get you."

The Hokies, who arrived Monday, have been given lectures about the temptations of this city and even have met with police representatives to learn which neighborhoods are the safest. Virginia Tech, however, is not taking nearly as many precautions as Florida State, whose officials are just as concerned with agents inappropriately contacting players as they are with players getting into trouble in the French Quarter. With almost 20 potential NFL draft picks and a history of agents giving the school's players gifts against NCAA rules, Florida State's associate athletic director for compliance and legal affairs, Bob Minnix, is not taking any chances.

Minnix, a member of the NCAA's enforcement staff from 1975 to 1995, has hired a half-dozen private security officers to monitor the floors of the hotel where the players are staying, especially between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m., to make sure no one unusual is hanging around. Players have been given special photo badges, and they and their families have been warned to stay away from anyone who might cause trouble, either with the police or the NCAA. Minnix also has distributed photographs of several sports agents to security guards and other team officials who will be around the players.

"Primarily, we just want someone around to make sure that the people who are there are supposed to be there and to help us weed out the people we don't know," Minnix said. "We had a meeting with everyone about a week ago, and we spent the entire time talking about the situation here and the potential problems we could have, and just for the kids to be smart. They know that--we've gone over it time and time again."

The Seminoles may know they are supposed to stay out of trouble, but in the past some players have gotten into it anyway. Since the beginning of 1997, there have been at least 12 arrests and several other brushes with the law involving Florida State players. This year, defensive end Chris Walker was arrested on drunk driving charges, starting cornerback Tay Cody was charged with marijuana possession, and wide receiver Laveranues Coles was suspended one game for receiving a plane ticket allegedly paid for by affiliates of an agent. Coles was kicked off the team later in the season when he and wide receiver Peter Warrick were arrested on theft charges.

Warrick was suspended for two games for that incident, which cost him any chance of winning the Heisman Trophy. He said today he has learned his lesson and won't be getting into any trouble here.

"The coaches are always telling us, 'Trouble is easy to get into and hard to get out of,' " he said. "We have a purpose to be here, and the purpose is not to get into trouble. We're not here to go to Bourbon Street all night and chill--we're here to win the national championship."

Sugar Bowl Notes: Virginia Tech has been fostering the perception that it is the underdog here, but Bowden was not willing to accept the pressure that goes with being the favorite. "The only reason they are the underdogs [when they are ranked] number two in the country is because we're number one, but who knows, they could be the best team in the country," he said. "It looks like they could beat about anyone.

"Everyone says Virginia Tech is hungry, and they are, but they haven't sat in a losing dressing room at a national championship game and sobbed either--we have."

Florida State has played in two national championship games in the past three seasons and lost both, to Florida in 1997 and to Tennessee in 1999. . . .

Beamer said that the team traveling to Louisiana has done nothing to diminish its support back home. "There's just a lot of pride, and it's not just in Blacksburg, it's kind of throughout the state of Virginia," said Beamer, who could barely get his Christmas shopping done last week because he had to stop frequently to talk to well-wishers. "People are living through something they never thought was possible. If you lined 10 Tech people up at the beginning of the year and asked if they thought we'd ever play for a national championship, nine of them would say no, and my mom would be the 10th one."