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Texas, OU, Florida, Rutgers face gut-check tests

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- After Saturday's chaos, "Gut-check Saturday" is the label attached to this weekend's slate of games. I'll buy it.

Teams that were stunned a week ago need to respond immediately or their seasons will begin to fall apart. Oklahoma and Texas fit into this category. So do Florida, Alabama, Rutgers, Penn State and Clemson. You always hear coaches say that what matters most is how you handle adversity. Well, that cliché stuff applies this week.

Here's how I rank the challenges for those seven teams:

1. Texas Longhorns
Mack Brown has lots of things to fix. Whether the list of player arrests and off-field issues is contributing to the malaise on Saturdays is hard to know, but they certainly can't help. The Longhorns need some leadership to step forward. When Vince Young was there, this was never an issue. Colt McCoy's confidence can't be soaring. After getting hammered by Kansas State and throwing four picks, his season total stands at nine in 186 attempts. Last year, he threw only seven in 318 throws. UT's offense has sputtered far too often. The special teams were embarrassed by K-State, too.

Texas can cure most of its ills on Saturday by upsetting Oklahoma (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET) and staying on track for the division title. The Longhorns have fallen all the way to No. 16 in the coaches' poll and No. 17 in the Harris poll. But they can climb back into the the top five by running the table. Nebraska and Texas Tech both visit Austin -- and the game at A&M is not that daunting. It has to start with a win at the Cotton Bowl. I don't see that happening.

2. Florida Gators
The Gators have drawn the toughest possible opponent for a rebound: revenge-hungry LSU … in Baton Rouge … at night. I am not among the chorus that is suddenly proclaiming that opponents have figured out how to stop the Tim Tebow-led Urban Meyer attack, and that Florida's days of high production are over. Auburn's defensive front is good and the Tigers had a great plan. True, Florida continues to be hurt by the lack of a special tailback, so Percy Harvin has to get touches creatively. Tebow won't want to tote the rock 20-25 times against the ferocious Tigers defense. Check that. He would want to, but that wouldn't be a good idea.

With Tebow in there, Florida can actually use four or five receivers in an empty backfield and run play-action with Tebow faking the QB draw, then stepping back to throw. Think about how hard that is to defend. It takes guts to go empty, though, against LSU's nasty pass-rushers. Florida's O-line struggled with Quentin Groves last week until he dislocated three toes and hobbled off. That sounds painful, doesn't it? Now the Gators will have to block Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson, et al. I'm not liking their chances of slowing the rush for long, so Urban better have some tricky, quick-developing stuff ready.

Keep in mind that even with a loss, the Gators would almost maintain control of their SEC destiny. Unless that is, you think Kentucky is going to beat LSU next week.

By the way, for an amusing peek inside the twisted brain of an overzealous fan, there is fun to be had (as always) on YouTube. It's not for the faint of heart because this raging Florida fanatic is dropping f-bombs like there's no tomorrow. See how this fanatic veers from screaming "Meyer You're a Genius!" to calling for his firing a minute later when Auburn completes the upset with a clutch field goal. Enjoy as you watch a dude melt down while his buddies (?) tape his agony. Just have all young people (or those who are bothered by profanity) clear the room!

I am not sure if this guy is ever gonna recover from Meyer's first home loss.

By the way, it may be worth noting for some of you out there that Meyer's Gators have not yet exceeded the "experts" expectations one time in eight SEC road games over two-plus seasons.

3. Penn State Nittany Lions
The Lions are reeling a bit and JoePaPa seems a bit puzzled as to how to arrest the slide. Before the Big House loss, Joe Paterno had a good feeling about this team's chemistry, leadership and sturdy defense. Now, it looks like the Outback or Alamo Bowl is in the cards unless they find some fire quickly. For the first time during their nine-game drought versus Michigan, Penn State did not rebound with a win. Anthony Morelli will be glad to have four of the next five games at home sandwiched around a trip to Indiana (no longer a pushover, by the way). His confidence has to be sagging a little. Iowa shouldn't be able to score much this Saturday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET), so the train should get back on the track.

4. Alabama Crimson Tide
The Tide offense better score big points on the Cougars or "Houston, we have a (big) problem." I thought Bama would bounce back from the OT loss to Georgia and defeat FSU, but the offense sputtered. Houston is defenseless, though. Then, it's a trip to Ole Miss and home games with Tennessee and LSU. Bama can still achieve good things this season, even if the Sabanmania euphoria has been punctured just a bit the last two weeks.

5. Oklahoma Sooners
The Sooners were not dominating Colorado last week before mistakes undid them. Two picks set up short OU touchdown drives. That's a cause for concern. Was last week's collapse just an aberration, a bump in the road to a Big 12 title and a BCS bid? If so, the Sooners will find themselves back in the national title hunt. They didn't fall too far in the polls. The trouble spot is the trip to Lubbock on Nov. 17. I see OU getting past Texas and staying in the hunt for the whole enchilada. The Sooners just need a little help.

6. Clemson Tigers
Kirk Herbstreit warned Clemson for weeks not to produce the kind of flat performance that unfolded last week at Georgia Tech, which the Tigers flattened a year ago and was staggering in off consecutive losses. The Tigers' defense did a good job, but the O put a 3-spot on the board. Ugly. Still, at 2-1 in the ACC, there is a great chance to respond and stay on course for a division title with a win over visiting Virginia Tech on Saturday (ESPN, 6 p.m. ET). A late-season visit from BC looms pretty big, but I am not predicting the Tigers will pack it in as they did last season. The 2006 loss in Blacksburg was the start of the slide, so there is symmetry here with the payback opportunity against Tech representing a chance to regain their footing. I think they will. Tommy Bowden better hope so.

7. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
SUNJ has a real test from Cincinnati on Saturday (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET), but the Scarlet Knights have a veteran at quarterback in Mike Teel and a hungry Ray Rice to count on. Ray took last week's loss real hard. He has been champing at the bit all week and feels he can carry the ball 40 times if he has to. Cincy was the team (with a different staff and defensive scheme) that stopped Rice a year ago. The Bearcats have been thriving with takeaways this season, something Rutgers can't allow. The Knights were minus-three in turnovers against Maryland, including a Rice fumble. But with Cincinnati, USF and West Virginia all visiting the banks of the Raritan, Rutgers can use home cooking to get back on track. Not sure if Kirk is exiting the bandwagon of his preseason Big East pick yet, but I am not.

Oregon has the week off, so the Ducks' check comes Oct. 13. They fell apart after the loss to Cal last season and must conquer their collective heartache over the agonizing climax Saturday. The real test will be a visit to Husky Stadium Oct. 20, the week before the Trojans visit Autzen.

By the way, it can be confirmed again from this "ear witness" that Autzen is in fact among the loudest places in college football, and may be the loudest "per capita" as Lee Corso likes to say. It's just deafening for opposing offenses, on par with The Swamp and Tiger Stadium -- two venues that are almost double Autzen's size.

I am surprised by how many poll voters penalized Oregon so harshly for losing in the last few seconds to a Cal team now ranked third. The Ducks are 13th in the Harris and coaches' polls and and 14th in the AP. I would have thought the rout at Michigan and the nature of the loss to Cal would keep the Ducks ahead of teams like Georgia, which lost at home to South Carolina. Had Oregon won, it likely would have used all the upsets Saturday to vault into the top five. Are they nine slots worse because of a fumble on the dreaded "reach the ball for the end zone" snafu? I just hate that technique. I don't view close losses that way.

The great black and gold and purple North

I'm not ready to proclaim the Big 12 North murderers' row, but it's great to see a pulse. Before Saturday, the South was 45-12 in the last 57 interdivisional Big 12 games. That's domination. There was grumbling from some of the South schools that their northern cousins were really dragging down the conference, and that they'd be better off seceding. Colorado and Kansas State's taking down the two South heavies is a huge boost for the beleaguered image.

Now, I will be watching the Sunflower Showdown with interest. Kansas has ridiculous offensive stats, piled up against ridiculous competition. But do you know the last time the Jayhawks crossed the goal line in Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan?

The year was 1999. In a 50-9 loss. The Jayhawks have booted a total of four field goals the last three visits. That's it.

Kansas State is far, far better on defense than the folks KU has been lighting up. Three Jayhawks I-A victims (Central Michigan, Florida International and Toledo) are ranked 104, 116 and 118 in scoring defense.Their four total victims are a combined 4-15. Now, Todd Reesing is a nice QB. With this measuring stick game, Mark Mangino has a real chance to reverse the trend in Manhattan. It would serve as a mini-milestone, since his baptism to this heated rivalry (really, it is heated out there) was a 64-0 undressing at home in 2002.

Wow, this rivalry has progressed from the late '80s collisions! This is the 20th anniversary of the epic 17-17 tie between two of college football's worst programs at the time. The ending could not have been more fitting: KSU's Mark Porter lining up for a chip shot to win it, but booting the ball right back in the rear end of his snapper. Comical.

Now, with neither program anywhere near a laughing stock, this will be a fun one to keep an eye on. Keep in mind that the Wildcats flopped badly a year ago when they were also coming off a big win over Texas. Josh Freeman, as a freshman, melted down in Lawrence and donated six turnovers. He is very hungry and eager show how much he has improved.

Upset Alert

These teams are set up to take a fall, if they are not careful.

Auburn: No Quentin Groves makes a difference on defense. Auburn's offense is still not singing. Vandy is not laughable at all. Careful, Tubs.

Colorado: Road game at Baylor presents a test for a team feeling full of itself after a much-needed breakthrough win. The Buffs should escape, but Baylor views this as a very winnable home game and a way to get closer to the goal of bowl eligibility.

Illinois: Handling prosperity can be tricky when you're not used to it -- and when you're young. The Illini host Wisconsin on Saturday (ESPN, noon ET). By the way, how can voters rank Wisconsin No. 5, when the Badgers
are considered underdogs against the team with the 28th-most AP votes? But enough poll talk.

The oh-fer nine

With Rice laying a stunning, embarrassing, nationally televised home loss to Southern Mississippi Wednesday night, the Winless Club was reduced to just nine teams in the first week of October.

Because football is hard work and practice is mostly no fun, I hate to see teams endure seasons without at least one taste of Saturday success. So here are the teams you may want to send some positive mojo.

At 0-5: Temple, Florida International, Marshall, UL-Lafayette, Utah State … and Notre Dame. I know, it's just bizarre to see the world's most storied program keeping this kind of company. The Irish skid is actually seven losses since the defeat versus USC in November 2006.

At 0-4: Colorado State, UL-Monroe, and North Texas. Something's gotta give Saturday night at Cajun Field when North Texas rolls into Lafayette. For those of you not all that caught up in watching Florida-LSU or Ohio State at Purdue (ABC, 8 p.m. ET), this tilt will be available on ESPN Regional. Yes, that means that a television truck will in fact be parked outside the stadium and
purchasers of the ESPN GamePlan will be able to aim their dishes around the night sky and enjoy the fierce-sounding tussle between the Mean Green and Ragin' Cajuns.

This game needs to be picked by Corso and Herbstreit on "GameDay." I will encourage them to do so.

It's always kind of fun for the "GameDay" gang to see who we might bump into on the sidelines of a big game, or at our big orange bus. It's not the expected sightings, like Shaq at the LSU-Virginia Tech game, that stick out. It's being talked up by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas at USC-Nebraska. Turns out he is a huge Huskers' fan. Or having an incognito Keanu Reeves stop by. I think he might be on the Trojans' bandwagon.

On the sidelines in Tuscaloosa the other week was American Idol winner Taylor Hicks. He's from Birmingham, but refused to tell me if he preferred Alabama to Auburn. His reasoning? Fans of both sides buy CDs and he didn't want to alienate anybody. Hmm. OK.

Can't wait to see who we run into next on the trail. The Hall of Fame of other non-football folks with whom we've had the pleasure of sharing college football passion over the years includes Tiger Woods, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, Mark Grace, Lance Armstrong, Charles Barkley, Matthew McConaughey, Will Farrell, Henry Winkler and many others. Not trying to name drop … it's just fun for us to see how excited these guys are to be at a big college game.

Chris Fowler is the host of ESPN's "College GameDay." Kick off each Saturday with "College GameDay" at 10 a.m. ET to get the latest news on college football.