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Alabama is back to being the team no one wants to face

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Doubters. Yeah, Alabama has had a few.

The dynasty was dead, remember? The spread and hurry-up had passed them by.

Besides, they lost to Ole Miss, which turned out to be a playoff pretender with losses to Florida, Memphis and Arkansas. And since then, Alabama hadn’t beaten anybody worthwhile as Georgia and Texas A&M proved to be paper tigers, too.

They were shaky at home, in case you missed it, and it was only a matter of time until Jake Coker’s play at quarterback would cost them. There were whispers of a young secondary and shaky special teams.

If football is religion in the South and Alabama is the rector of the SEC, then these were a few of the 95 Theses nailed to the church house door in Tuscaloosa. CC’d was the College Football Playoff selection committee, which sang the Tide’s praises last week with a No. 4 ranking, ahead of undefeated Baylor, Michigan State, TCU and Iowa.

Cue the same old cries of SEC bias and brand-name favoritism.

But after demolishing LSU at home, how many skeptics are there now?

You don’t have to like Alabama. You don’t have to have faith in them, either. Just watch them play and ask yourself a simple question: Who out there is capable of beating them?

Who out there has been more dominant?

They took college football’s No. 2 team to the woodshed. They dismantled the Heisman Trophy front-runner, turning Superman into Clark Kent. They heard the critics after losing to Ole Miss and have been on the warpath ever since, winning by an average of more than 18 points against opponents with a combined 65.2 winning percentage.

Derrick Henry has gone from a forgotten star to the baddest man in college football, a 6-foot-3, 243-pound running back you wouldn’t want to meet on a goal-line stand. With 210 yards against LSU, he stole the Heisman spotlight from Leonard Fournette, prompting Les Miles to call him “a big, strong, capable man.”

The only defense that might have a chance at stopping Henry is his own. There’s no better defense in college football.

LSU didn’t have an answer for Alabama. Offensive tackle Vadal Alexander said he thought they got a hat on a hat. He said he felt good about their game plan and couldn’t figure out what went wrong that led to 54 yards rushing and seven tackles for loss. But he shouldn’t feel bad. Georgia’s John Theus and Texas A&M’s Mike Matthews will be playing on Sundays with him soon, and they didn’t know what hit them when they played Alabama, either.

Since losing to Ole Miss, no one has allowed fewer yards or yards per play than Alabama, and only Michigan has allowed fewer points.

Alabama’s defensive line, the one Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said looked like an assembly line of future pros, has been overwhelming. A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed and Jonathan Allen are all on track to be high-round draft picks next year. And when they’re not making plays, it’s former SEC All-Freshman Teamers D.J. Pettway and Da’Shawn Hand making noise. Daron Payne, whom teammates call a “man-child” at 315 pounds, is next in line to make the All-Freshman squad.

It may not be the modus operandi of today’s game that has Alabama in the playoff hunt. In a period defined by finesse, the Tide are nothing of the kind. Even their DBs will punch you in the mouth -- just ask Fournette, who took a few licks from undersized safeties Geno Matias-Smith and Eddie Jackson. Reserve cornerback Tony Brown nearly decapitated a return man in the second half Saturday.

Instead of spreading the field, Lane Kiffin has been convinced that multiple tight ends have their place and a 320-pound defensive tackle (Robinson) makes for a good fullback sometimes. Coker may not be a future pro, but he’s a load to bring down at 6-foot-5 and 232 pounds, and he manages the game well enough not to get in the way of what makes Alabama special: an all-time great running back and a suffocating defense.

And who’s going to beat that?

Outmuscling Alabama isn’t an option.

Banking on having more talent isn’t, either. Not when Nick Saban’s working on his fifth consecutive No. 1-ranked recruiting class.

You can try out-scheming Saban, but that’s not easy. Just ask Miles, who said after the game that his team “got what we deserved.”

After searching high and low for Alabama’s kryptonite, the rest of college football is finding out what he means by that.

If you’re waiting on Alabama to return to the role of underdog, don’t hold your breath. They Tide will be favorites from here on out -- against Mississippi State, Charleston Southern and Auburn to end the regular season, and then again in the SEC title game against Florida.

After weeks of doubting Alabama, it’s time to accept that the Tide are right back where they belong. They're back to looking unbeatable again.