Like it or not, Alabama still team to beat

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It’s Alabama versus the world, at least the college football world.

That’s what happens when you win as much as the Crimson Tide have over the past five years and build a mini-dynasty.

They get sick of you.

And right now, Alabama is making everybody downright nauseous. That is, everybody who doesn’t know the words to “Yea Alabama!” by heart.

Just two days after Oregon was bloodied and beaten by Stanford on the West Coast, No. 1 Alabama showed Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium that it’s still the master of old-school, impose-your-will football with a 38-17 smackdown of No. 13 LSU.

As Alabama coach Nick Saban said himself, it wasn’t perfect. But boy was it effective.

The second half might have been as good a half as the Crimson Tide (9-0, 6-0 SEC) have played all season. A nifty fake punt from their own 41 got them going on their opening possession of the second half, and from there it looked like the Alabama we’ve grown accustomed to seeing during the run of three national championships in the last four years.

“We didn’t play a great first half, but I’ll tell you ... we showed a lot of character out there in the second half, controlling the line of scrimmage the way we did,” said Saban, whose club hadn’t been in a close game to open the second half since winning at Texas A&M 49-42 on Sept. 14.

That was part of the knock on this Alabama team coming into Saturday’s game. The Crimson Tide hadn’t played anybody who had a chance of staying on the field with them, much less beating them, in more than a month.

So how good, really, is this team?

We got a much more definitive answer Saturday as T.J. Yeldon and the running game chiseled away at the LSU defense for 129 of their 193 rushing yards after halftime.

A 17-17 tie early in the third quarter gave way to three consecutive long touchdown drives by the Crimson Tide, who with the exception of the fake punt didn’t do much of anything fancy. Yeldon finished with 133 rushing yards, and Alabama’s offensive line reminded LSU’s defense what big-boy football was all about.

Don’t forget about Mr. Big Game, either. Alabama senior quarterback AJ McCarron attempted just 20 passes and missed a couple of throws in the first half he normally makes. But he tossed three touchdown passes and didn’t have any interceptions.

There was a poignant embrace between Saban and McCarron after the game, their smiles as wide as some of the holes Alabama blew open in the LSU defensive front.

“AJ and I have been through a lot,” Saban said. “Some of it, you’ve seen on TV and some of it you haven’t. He’s done a great job for us, and there’s nobody I’ve had an opportunity to coach who’s more into the game and more of a competitor than AJ.

“He did a great job of showing a lot of leadership out there, especially in the second half. We needed our offense to control the tempo of this game, and they did that in the second half. That was really the difference in the game.”

Saban is never going to be one to savor a win, or even a championship for that matter.

There’s always the next game, the next season, the next challenge.

When it was over Saturday, though, Saban took a mini victory lap around the stadium.

He knows there are several monumental challenges to come before there’s any thought of playing for a third straight national championship. The Iron Bowl matchup with No. 9 Auburn on the Plains to end the regular season looks more daunting by the week, and then there’s potentially the SEC championship game.

But even as the wins mount, the vogue thing to do with this Alabama team is to talk about everything it’s not.

It’s not as talented as the three teams that won national championships under Saban in 2009, 2011 and 2012. It’s not as laden with veteran leadership as some of Saban’s past teams, and it’s not a team that has played a killer schedule.

Matter of fact, Florida State probably gets the nod as the most talented team in the country right now. Stanford might be the most proven, and Baylor the most entertaining.

And, yes, Ohio State hasn’t lost a football game since the end of the 2011 season -- 21 in a row.

But the team to beat, like it or not, is still Alabama.