In the SEC, the sun smiles on South Carolina and Florida

Florida is now officially in the national title hunt.

"This is just one win. It doesn't count for one and a half, and it doesn't count for two," Florida Coach Will Muschamp said.

It sure felt like two.

Still, it wasn't as impressive as No. 6 South Carolina's crushing 35-7 rout of No. 5 Georgia, in Columbia, S.C. It marked the first time South Carolina has won three straight against Georgia and suggested strongly that Steve Spurrier's team is the one Alabama needs to fear most.

Georgia, a team that had scored at least 40 points in all five victories, hit a defensive wall led by a freakish sophomore defensive end named Jadeveon Clowney.

South Carolina held Georgia to 224 yards, less than half the Bulldogs' average of 536.

It's strange to watch a Spurrier team win with a running game and stonewall defense. "Our defense was sensational," Spurrier told ESPN on the field afterward.

Things can change. South Carolina plays at LSU and Florida the next two weeks and closes the season at Clemson. For now, though, South Carolina is the team to beat in the SEC East.

The conference opened Saturday with a cute little "nostalgia" act, Arkansas at Auburn.

One team was ranked No. 10 to start the season and the other won a national title only two years ago — yet the teams entered play with a combined record of 2-7.

Arkansas prevailed, 24-7, celebrating its first win over a team not in the Ohio Valley Conference (Jacksonville State). Auburn would still be winless if not for an overtime victory against Louisiana Monroe.

It is hard to believe this is the Auburn program that defeated Oregon, 22-19, to win the 2010 BCS title. What a difference a Cam Newton makes.

"Auburn fans and the Auburn family, they did not deserve this today," Auburn Coach Gene Chizik said. "And I apologize to anybody who came to the game to watch it."

A lot of Auburn fans did actually leave early. "I didn't see the fans leave, but I don't blame them," Chizik said.

Auburn scored seven points against a defense ranked No. 116 out of 120 teams nationally.

Poor Arkansas, though, needed a victory in the worst way. The Razorbacks were considered national title contenders but have collapsed under the weight of expectations.

Interim Coach John L. Smith has had troubles on and off the field. He recently filed for bankruptcy, listing $40 million in liabilities from bad real estate deals.

After Alabama wiped Arkansas out, 52-0, last month, Smith implored reporters at his weekly news conference to smile. It was later learned Smith's brother had died over the weekend.

It's been a rough year for Smith, but Saturday had to make him smile.

"Relentless effort, relentless effort, relentless effort," he said after the win.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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