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

Florida turns teetering LSU into Gator bait, but South Carolina's impressive win over Georgia makes the Gamecocks No. 2 in Alabama's SEC.

Top-ranked Alabama rested at home as four other undefeated top-10 teams from the Southeastern Conference jumped straight to 2014 and staged their own four-team playoff.

It's always pre-Copernicus down South, where the sun revolves around the SEC.

Highlights from other games — West Virginia at Texas, Miami at Notre Dame, Nebraska at Ohio State — could be revisited on TV wrap-up shows.

Geno who?

Notre what?

Florida State was where?

The question we wanted answered Saturday was "Who is No. 2?"

Not in the country — how important could that be? We wanted to know: "What's the second-best team in the SEC?"

The answer is, for now, South Carolina.

Florida, ranked No. 10 in the Associated Press media poll, made a nice introductory statement with its 14-6 win over No. 4 Louisiana State in Gainesville, but it wasn't that much of a surprise.

LSU has been teetering for weeks, artificially propped up by voters who refused to let go of the myth.

Coach Les Miles' team nearly lost two weeks ago against Auburn's Tigers, who still have only an overtime victory against a Sun Belt team to show for the season.

LSU also struggled last week at home against Towson, a lower-division program. Yet, USA Today voting coaches dropped LSU only one spot in their poll, to No. 3, the last two weeks.

The idea LSU was suddenly going to snap out of it got quickly snapped off by the purveyors of "Chomp Chomp."

Florida trailed 6-0 in the first half but wore LSU down in the second, scoring two touchdowns while ending the game with 25 consecutive running plays.

"When you're running the ball like that, why do anything else?" said Mike Gillislee, who led the Gators with 146 yards and both touchdowns.

LSU's offense is what we knew it was: a mess. The Tigers amassed 200 total yards as quarterback Zach Mettenberger struggled to complete 11 of 25 passes for 158 yards with an interception. LSU was one for 13 on third-down conversions.

"There's no excuses," Mettenberger said. "We've got to execute better offensively."

LSU, to be perfectly cruel, has now been held without a touchdown three times dating to last November's 9-6 win at Alabama.

"We will make corrections and understand where we are at," Miles said. "I think our football team is sick, sick with knowledge that they could have played better."

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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