COLUMBIA - Of the many ludicrous stories Steve Spurrier heard over the decades coaching football, few compared to the 1989 spring game at Florida.
WHEN: Saturday, noon
WHERE: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia
Before Spurrier arrived at his alma mater, there was unquestioned importance on the program's annual spring scrimmage. Players competed in what was known as a "steak and beans" game. The winning team received a nice, steak dinner. The losers felt the agony of defeat.
Naturally, a bunch of big, hungry men preferred gourmet over mush. So former tailback Emmitt Smith - who one day would rush for more NFL yards than anyone who's ever lived - carried the football 31 times trying to dodge the beans. Smith went on to be a consensus All-American that fall, but Spurrier wondered why the Gators would risk a serious injury in a meaningless game.
"We don't do that," Spurrier said incredulously this week.
Spurrier's opinion of what a spring game should be - and, more importantly, what it isn't - formed a long time ago. It's a showcase for young, inexperienced players. A festival for the athletics department. A celebration for fans.
To Spurrier, that's where the significance ends. Nobody is winning or losing anything. The score is irrelevant.
South Carolina junior Mike Davis may be a workhorse running back this fall, but not Saturday. Same for quarterback Dylan Thompson and many of the Gamecocks' established starters.
Spurrier said Thompson will barely play one half when the program holds its annual spring game noon Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium. The scrimmage, which will be televised on ESPNU, will be split into four, 12-minute quarters with a running clock in the second half.
"It's been very important when you don't know who your quarterback or running back or receiver, some of those guys, are," Spurrier said. "Right now, it's not that important for known starters."
The game isn't completely useless, either. There's a reason Spurrier and fellow coaches across the country continue holding the annual event. Here are five things to look for Saturday, both on the field and off.
1. The backup
For much of spring, the gap between Dylan Thompson and his backup candidates has been the Grand Canyon. Thompson is the talented, experienced signal caller, dubbed with the responsibility of replacing legendary quarterback Connor Shaw. He's had a good spring, but understudies Connor Mitch, Perry Orth and Brendan Nosovitch have mostly shown a mixed bag of inconsistencies. Spurrier would like to feel good about his backup options before August camp opens. Nothing separates the pack like live reps.
The biggest question South Carolina faces this offseason is whether it will be able to defend the pass. With a depleted depth chart at cornerback, defensive coaches are hoping senior safety Brison Williams can fill one cornerback spot this fall. That mostly depends on how well safeties Chaz Elder, J.J. Marcus and T.J. Gurley play without Williams. There have been a lot of moving parts this spring. Against South Carolina's potent passing attack, the secondary will show how much it progressed.
3. New-look defensive line
J.T. Surratt is the only returning starter on South Carolina's defensive line, but coaches are optimistic there's plenty of untapped talent to keep the unit near the top of the SEC in production. Spring is a difficult time to evaluate the defensive line, among the most physical positions to play. There aren't many live reps, which only amplifies the importance of a spring game. Finally, unproven players like Gerald Dixon, Gerald Dixon Jr. and Darius English will show what they can do in a game-like setting.
4. Pomp and pageantry
Jadeveon Clowney will be honored at halftime along with last season's senior class, Spurrier said. The women's basketball team also will be recognized during the halftime ceremony. Spurrier also promised a local celebrity will make a cameo for the traditional "off-the-bench play," where someone standing on the sideline runs onto the field and catches a touchdown pass.
5. Spring MVP
Most springs, an unknown player strings together several good practices to become something of a spring All-American. It's a meaningless title, of course. Nothing counts in April. Still, it's always interesting to see which player improves the most over 15 spring practices, and whether that progress carries into the fall. Who will it be this year? The spring game will reveal.