TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Believing only took No. 11 Mississippi State so far.
Faith got the Bulldogs knocking on the door. The No. 1-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide turned them away.
The Bulldogs came to Tuscaloosa clanging cowbells, dancing on the sidelines and chanting "We Believe." They swore this year was different. They trusted in their perfect record and questioned whether Alabama's top billing was anything more than a result of media hype and poor competition.
Folks in Starkville, Miss., woke up from Saturday's 38-7 loss to Alabama believing in something different. They woke up looking for something else to put their faith in.
Consider it another town conquered by the Tide, another skeptic converted. The electoral map might read red and blue, but the college football map is all crimson.
Alabama has performed the role of big brother this season, keeping opponents at arm's length with one hand while batting them incessantly with the other. Little brother hasn't stood a chance.
The Tide have been remarkably efficient. UA is No. 1 in pass efficiency defense and No. 2 in pass efficiency on offense. It's tops in all four major defensive categories and No. 11 in scoring offense.
Just imagine if they were throwing the ball in the fourth quarter, something AJ McCarron has done only 18 times all season.
Sit back on defense and Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon will gash you. Load the box and McCarron will make you regret it. Play mind games on offense and you'll walk away with nothing more than a headache to show for it.
Opponents have been overmatched all season. Michigan was a step slow even with the fleet-footed Denard Robinson at quarterback. Arkansas showed it couldn't play ball without Tyler Wilson under center. Tennessee kept Tyler Bray healthy but it didn't do much good. Who would have thought that Ole Miss would be the toughest game Alabama had played to this point? The Tide won that one by 19 points.
UA has looked like a bully searching for a good fight. Too bad No. 6 LSU had to wait until Week 9 to enter the ring.
"So far at the end of the game, it hasn’t been close," said UA linebacker C.J. Mosley. "But this defense and this team has been through adversity this season, and we have to be ready for anything that can happen."
The Game of the Century Part III is about to happen. Alabama and LSU split the first two, the Tide coming out the victors when it mattered most.
Now, Alabama gets a different set of Tigers with a new quarterback and a new group of stars on defense.
Now, Alabama gets to travel to Baton Rouge, where coach Les Miles said, "Dreams go to die." LSU's record in Death Valley proves it.
"They’re going to make plays," Mosley said of LSU. "They’re a great team. Throughout the season, that’s the type of thing that we have to be ready for, and that’s what we pride ourselves on -- when adversity comes, how will we react to it?"
All the evidence points to Alabama being ready to respond to the challenge, but the argument has its holes when you examine the level of competition. If you're looking for a competitive game, you're going to have to go all the way back to LSU circa 2011. Heading into Saturday, Alabama had just one win over a team ranked in the BCS this season -- Michigan. A 23-9 loss to Nebraska will likely drop the Wolverines out of the standings on Sunday. Mississippi State should remain in the BCS picture, but after what Alabama did to the Bulldogs, does anyone still believe they're title contenders?
There's little doubt that LSU is. The Tigers played a close game with a miserable Auburn team early and spit the bit against Florida. But what they've done in recent weeks beating two ranked teams in South Carolina and Texas A&M has reminded everyone what they're capable of.
LSU won the last good fist fight with Alabama a year ago. Can the Tigers do it again? Can Alabama handle Round III?
One thing is for sure: On Saturday night, big brother will get to pick on someone his own size.