TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) Reports surfaced almost immediately after Alabama's blunder-packed loss to Mississippi suggesting that the dynasty was dying.
Then the second-ranked Crimson Tide emerged from a players-only meeting the following week determined to both ignore the critics and prove them wrong. Since then, 10 straight wins have secured `Bama a date in the Cotton Bowl against No. 3 Michigan State in the national semifinals on Dec. 31 and quelled that talk – for now, at least.
The Tide's lone loss, to Mississippi on Sept. 19, followed unimpressive finishes to back-to-back seasons. That Alabama was on the wane was an easy contention to make despite an uncharacteristic five turnovers and one long Rebels touchdown on a pass that deflected off a helmet contributing to the 43-47 defeat.
The clock hasn't struck midnight on the powerhouse program, even if that game ended about that time.
Defensive tackle Jarran Reed thinks the Tide has ''proved a lot of people wrong.'' The reaction to that lone defeat certainly gave the players something to rally over, and Reed and others are still miffed about it.
''Lose one game, that's what people do,'' Reed said. ''They think the season's over with. They think you're going downhill. They think you're going to fall off. But we don't listen to any of that. We keep playing our game. We've got each other in here, and that's all you need.''
So far it has been enough.
The talent, after all, is still there, with Nick Saban bringing in waves of highly rated prospects each year. The defense remains among the nation's best, and indefatigable tailback Derrick Henry won the Heisman Trophy, after all.
Alabama has won its last 10 games by an average of 21.7 points, including a 29-15 dispatching of No. 19 Florida in the Southeastern Conference championship game. The team that turned it over five times against the Rebels has committed six turnovers since then and forced 12.
It's hard to measure the impact of that team meeting, but it certainly appears to have had a galvanizing effect.
''I think everybody elevated the level of intensity and the standard (to which) they were holding themselves accountable for their play,'' Saban said. ''Whether it came from that meeting, or wherever it came from, all I can say is that the players responded the right way to a loss and we started to make progress as a team.
''I was very pleased with the way these guys responded to every challenge for the rest of the season.''
The program that has won three national titles since 2009 under Nick Saban – but none since 2012 – has had some shaky end-of-season showings. That includes last year's 42-35 semifinal loss to Ohio State, when Cardale Jones and Ezekiel Elliott abused the powerhouse defense.
The 2013 season ended with back-to-back losses to Auburn – thanks largely to the famous Kick-Six play – and Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
The loss to Ole Miss created more doubt.
The headline on a column in USA Today afterward proclaimed: ''At Alabama, doubt replaces a football dynasty.''
Before the SEC championship game, Fox Sports radio host Colin Cowherd took aim at the league and Alabama, calling it a ''one-man offense'' and noting the Tide's struggles against Arkansas, Tennessee and Auburn.
''If Alabama was called Wisconsin, SEC fans would mock them,'' Cowherd said.
Tide linebacker Ryan Anderson took note of that critique especially, though he cited comments made on Cowherd's show besides those actually made by the host.
''We want to prove everybody wrong,'' Anderson said. ''That Colin Cowherd dude, saying we're old Big Ten, slow defense, 250 pounds and we can't move. I feel like that's my biggest motivation right now, that dude. I feel like he had no business saying that. I don't think he ever played football.''
There's only one way to really prove the critics wrong: Finish better than Alabama has lately. It's something the Tide didn't do in that loss to Ohio State when Elliott pounded Alabama for 230 yards and the Buckeyes gained 537 all told.
Now, the trick is trying to avoid a repeat performance.
''We still keep that in the back of our heads,'' Tide defensive back Marlon Humphrey said. ''Whether we played or not, we know how it felt walking off that field. We left so many plays out there on that field. We're trying to have a different outcome this year.''
AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org