SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Just after Oregon won the Civil War over state rival Oregon State on Dec. 4, the Ducks were asked about playing for the national title against massive, football-playing robots who came into existence after monstrous demon blacksmiths hammered them together in the darkest regions of Hades.
Or, you know, an SEC team.
Even five weeks ago, the question -- SEC vs. Pac-10 -- didn't really light much of a fire under the Ducks.
"We're going to play whoever," running back Kenjon Barner said at the time. "Who can say a conference is better than another conference or anything like that? We're just going to go out and play how we have to play."
Oregon coach Chip Kelly was asked about the SEC's success in the championship games -- it's been whispered about by a few SEC moles that the conference has won four consecutive BCS national titles -- and whether that was meaningful to him.
For those of us who regularly chat with Kelly, we knew what was coming.
"We never get caught up in that," Kelly said. "We are not playing for the Pac-10. In my opinion, they are not playing for the SEC. It is Auburn versus Oregon. I don't think you can look at past successes and say, 'Hey, this conference did this, this conference did this.' You have no idea. Two years ago we went 5-0 in bowl games in the Pac-10 and everybody talked about us, and last year we didn't do a real good job. So I think it's a cyclical thing and each team is their own entity. We are not playing for the Pac-10, I can tell you that. We're playing for Oregon. It is Oregon versus Auburn ... I will never stand up in front of my team and say we are carrying the flag for nine other teams or whatever."
Is that just coachspeak, or another Chippism about playing a "faceless" opponent and not listening to "outside influences"? Maybe. But it seemed fairly clear that Kelly's Ducks were buying in. If a player was into the whole "SEC vs. the Pac-10" angle, the Pac-10 blog didn't hear it this week.
"We're not really worried about that," quarterback Darron Thomas said. "We're just going out playing against whoever we've got to play against."
Running back LaMichael James refused to bite when asked if the SEC was overhyped by the media: "I don't think they are making too much of it. [The SEC has] won, so I really can't say anything negative." But he then added, "It's not the Pac-10 versus the SEC. It is us versus Oregon. I mean, Auburn."
Oh, but this is a big angle for fans. There will be a lot of football fans across the country rooting for Oregon in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game just so the SEC doesn't win its fifth consecutive national title.
Further, a Ducks victory would undermine the theory of SEC superiority, at least in 2010-11.
If Auburn loses, the SEC will go 4-6 in bowl games and the Pac-10 3-1. Thus far, the SEC only has two bowl victories over ranked teams (Alabama over No. 9 Michigan State and LSU over No. 17 Texas A&M) -- the same number as the Pac-10 (Washington over No. 18 Nebraska and Stanford over No. 13 Virginia Tech).
Finally, if Oregon wins, the Pac-10 will improve to 13-9 versus the SEC this millennium. That's a fairly robust number in support of a, "Scoreboard, baby!"
While none of this qualifies as a thorough and objective measure of relative conference strength, it will give something for fans to crow about out west.
And if Auburn wins? Well, there isn't much you can say about five consecutive national titles and a fifth different SEC team winning a crystal football. That's impressive by any measure.
As for the Oregon players, they did show some signs of annoyance with certain questions this week, only they didn't really have a regional element to them. The oft-repeated theory that Auburn was too big for Oregon seemed to inspire more than a few smirks from the Ducks.
"They are a big team," Thomas said. "Tennessee was a big team. Like I said, there are teams in the Pac-10 just as physical, just as fast. Nothing we haven't ever seen before. So it is going to be a similar thing."
A similar thing? To the 48-13 win at Tennessee? Or the Ducks' 31-point average margin of victory? Hmm.
Just know this: When the smoke clears Monday night, one of the main headlines will be about which conference came out on top.