Shortly after noon PT Sunday, a friend swapped Nick Aliotti's soda for what looked suspiciously like a Bloody Mary.
The occasion for Oregon's defensive coordinator was the Ducks' season-ending banquet. Aliotti had last been seen celebrating with a cold beer immediately following Saturday afternoon's momentous win over Oregon State that put Oregon into the BCS title game. Following that, the 19-year veteran of Ducks football joined the staff Saturday night to quaff a few at the Prairie Schooner Tavern here on the way back from the Civil War.
"I don't want this to come out like I'm some kind of alcoholic," Aliotti said.
No, nothing like that, but if there were ever a coach who deserved a celebratory libation, Aliotti is the guy. He arrived here from Cal-Davis in 1978 to join Rich Brooks' staff with "a green VW, $200 and all the clothes I could possibly carry" to be a graduate assistant. There have been other jobs, including a stop in the NFL with Brooks, but it's fitting that Aliotti has reached his career peak with the Ducks.
He is one of the senior members of a cutting-edge program that has melded a new-wave offense with old-time football. Aliotti couldn't take two steps Sunday at the banquet reception Sunday without accepting congratulations -- and a drink. Hence, the supposed Bloody. A few hours later, the 56-year-old was with the Ducks whooping it up at the Casanova Center watching their national championship pairing with Auburn become official.
"Little did I know that in five different decades, I'd be a part of Oregon football," he said. "I saw it when we were really, really bad. To get to this point now is really indescribable. Right now, it's one of those 'pinch me' things."
Only 12 schools had played for championships in the BCS era before Saturday. Both No. 1 Oregon and No. 2 Auburn are new to the title game but even within that matchup, the Ducks have to be the underdog in terms of image. From 1966 through 1994, Oregon didn't have a coach come through the program and post a winning record. Things began to turn around when Mike Bellotti took the Ducks to 12 bowls in 14 years. In two seasons his replacement, Chip Kelly, has won back-to-back Pac-10 titles. The championship shot is the Ducks' first in 115 years of football.
"I guess when you're a little guy and all your life you grow up kind of having to overachieve," Aliotti said. "I think it makes you hungrier, work harder. If you're dealt all the aces, you're going to win, but when you're not dealt all the aces sometimes you have to play the hand that you're dealt with. That's what is so cool about this team."
Aliotti's unit is one half of the worst defensive pairing in the history of the BCS title game. Oregon is 25th in total defense compared to Auburn, which is 54th. The previous 12 title games have included at least one team in top 10 of total defense. Oregon's D is known mostly for big plays. It is in the top 10 in red zone defense, third-down defense and in the top 15 in scoring defense.
Saturday was typical of all the little things the Ducks do. Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz was knocked silly on the first play of the Civil War. (He returned.) There were the two trips inside the 20 where Oregon State was held to field goals when the Beavers were threatening to get back in the game.
The next challenge will be Aliotti's biggest this season -- trying to figure out how to stop Cam Newton. He estimates that the likely Heisman Trophy winner is bigger than eight members of his starting defense.
"I haven't studied what they do. I know there's a lot of Cam Right, Cam Left, Cam Throw," Aliotti said. "I guess it adds to the challenge, for lack of a better word, to try to go stop this juggernaut."
There's plenty of time left to drive a man to drink -- five weeks left until the championship game.
BCS title game
Sorry, Nick, this will not be a defensive shootout. The nation's No. 1 (Oregon) and No. 6 (Auburn) scoring offenses should light it up.
No defense has been able to stop, or barely slow down, Newton all season. If you concentrate on stacking the line, Auburn's quarterback will throw lasers. Ask South Carolina, which gave up 335 through the air to him on Saturday. But that's really the best strategy -- try to stop Cam the Runner first.
At first glance, this is not a good matchup for Oregon, which likes to play, and score, fast. Auburn should be able to hold the ball and tire out a game Oregon D that has caused the second-most turnovers nationally (35). It will definitely be a fourth quarter game with the ball in Newton's hands at the end. It ends with Lights! Cameron! Action!
The biggest mismatch in BCS bowls since Georgia torched Hawaii in 2007.
Glad to be here? You might say that about Connecticut, 8-4, which didn't win all its games, just won the right ones to take advantage of the Big East's BCS hall pass. Against a physically superior defense, UConn's Jordan Todman, second nationally in rushing, will have to make almost all the big plays. It ain't happenin' against an OU team full of playmakers and full of experience.
While TVs click off all over the country, the Sooners get ready for a 2011 championship run with a 20-point (at least) victory.
If we had a playoff this would be a heck of a semifinal. As it is, we've been conditioned by the BCS. No one, except maybe those in Fort Worth, complained about TCU being left out.
Nationally, only Oregon's team speed is better than the Horned Frogs'. Among BCS bowl teams, only the Ducks and Auburn run it better. Little Sister of the Poor, they aren't, Gordo. TCU could beat Oregon and Auburn. It just won't be given a chance.
If you're thinking that the Badgers are going to bludgeon the Frogs, you haven't watched enough football this season. TCU runs it better than Wisconsin -- eighth nationally -- and has the best defense in the country. The Frogs held Air Force (No. 2 in rushing) to its lowest total of the season.
In a Rose Bowl classic, TCU harasses Scott Tolzien, holds the Badgers under 200 rushing and wins by a field goal.
Two months ago, Ohio State looked like one of the most complete teams in the country. Right now, Arkansas is the complete team in this game.
Hogs tailback Knile Davis has given Bobby Petrino a ground element to go with Ryan Mallet's rocket arm. Ohio State has fine players but not enough difference-makers to overcome what might be the second-best team in the SEC.
Terrelle Pryor completed 65 percent of his passes this season but needs more game-breakers to beat the Hogs. In its first BCS game, Arkansas will win by 10.
This is why these BCS bowls are among the worst in recent years. If there was any flexibility, Stanford would be playing in the Rose Bowl, TCU would be in the Orange Bowl and the Big East wouldn't have an automatic bid.
A guy can dream can't he?
Stanford-Virginia Tech isn't bad, it just isn't great. Seeing Andrew Luck go against Bud Foster's defense will be a treat, though. Stanford will be only the second team the Hokies have played this season that is in the top 10 in pass efficiency. Boise, a loss on opening day, was the other.
Take Luck and the Cardinal in what will likely be his collegiate farewell.
Dodd's Power Poll
6. Ohio State
7. Boise State
8. Michigan State
10. Virginia Tech
17. Oklahoma State
18. Texas A&M
20. South Carolina
21. West Virginia
23. Central Florida
25. (tie) Miami (Ohio) Florida State
For more from Dennis Dodd, check him out on Twitter: @dennisdoddcbs