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What to watch out for in the Garnet and Black spring game

That time of year already?

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

It’s finally April, and you know what that means — it’s time for the annual Garnet and Black spring game, which serves as both our first taste of college football in this calendar year and the last glimpse we’ll get before the long, hot summer sets in. Some would argue that these games are largely meaningless scrimmages, and while that might be the objectively correct take, there’s still some value and entertainment to derive from spring football. Here are a few things to look out for as the Gamecocks square off today at noon on the SEC Network:

The quarterbacks

It’s impossible to have a discussion about spring games without including the quarterbacks, and it’s easy to see why. Even with an incumbent starter in Jake Bentley, there’s still plenty of intrigue at the backup spot after the veteran Michael Scarnecchia finally exhausted his eligibility. Coach Will Muschamp said the young quarterbacks would be live during the scrimmage — so they won’t be protected from contact — and that ups the ante even further. All eyes will be on incoming stud recruit Ryan Hilinski, but don’t forget about former Mr. Football Dakereon Joyner or Jay Urich. It sounds like the staff will be giving these guys ample opportunity to shine, so we’ll see who can put on a show.

The running backs

South Carolina’s backfield has seen a bit of turnover lately, with the unexpected transfer of Ty’Son Williams and A.J. Turner splitting time at cornerback toward the end of 2018. The unit never found a go-to back last season, and obviously, that remains true now. Veterans Rico Dowdle and Mon Denson, along with youngsters Deshaun Fenwick and Lavonte Valentine, will be joined by Kevin Harris, a three-star prospect who drew praise from the staff during winter workouts. We’ll see if anyone can start to emerge here.

The pass rush

The defensive line is an interesting unit with a lot of potential. We saw some of that in 2018 with a couple monster games from Javon Kinlaw and flashes from Keir Thomas, J.J. Enagbare, and Kobe Smith. Notably, stalwart D.J. Wonnum was slowed by injury and missed five games, so fans were robbed of the opportunity to see the line at the height of its powers for much of the season. With all of the above players returning and the addition of a much-vaunted, five-star recruit in Zacch Pickens, this will hopefully be a fearsome pass rush.

Who will be this year’s spring game superstar?

It happens every year: An unheralded or otherwise unknown player steps up and shows out, fueling speculation and fan excitement for months, often to increasingly dizzy heights. Sometimes this player delivers on the hype and has a great season; others, well, not so much. But I honestly kind of love that mystery of the spring game, and it’s worth tuning in just to see guys on the depth chart you might not otherwise be aware of. And yeah, who knows, you just might get the first look at a future Gamecock legend.

While the spring game won’t make or break anything about South Carolina’s upcoming season, it’ll be nice to get some positive discussion going about the program after the, uh, regrettable occurrence that was the Belk Bowl. If nothing else is accomplished today, I hope it’s at least that.