COLUMBIA, S.C. - The Phillip Fulmer-Steve Spurrier rivalry goes back to the early 1990s, but you wouldn't recognize Saturday's matchup by what's at stake.
Beating Spurrier once led to a national championship for Fulmer and Tennessee. Now, it's probably not enough to save the UT coach's job.
Beating Fulmer was once the first big step toward a conference championship when Spurrier and his Florida Gators were having their way with the SEC in the 1990s. A decade later at South Carolina, it merely would be a baby step forward for a program that has never won so much as a divisional title.
"We're trying to finish in the first half of the Eastern Division," Spurrier said Tuesday.
In a best-case scenario, UT also could finish third in the East. But such a goal is best left unstated at UT, just as it would have been for Spurrier at Florida, where anything short of a championship was a disappointment.
South Carolina fans have no such expectations. They can appreciate winning seasons, bowl bids, and occasional upsets of SEC powers.
Spurrier has given them that. What he has achieved doesn't turn heads, for an obvious reason. This is a guy who won a conference championship at Duke of all places, then dominated the SEC like no coach since Bear Bryant. Coaching up to his own reputation is as difficult as chasing down Florida and Georgia in the SEC East.
But forget what Spurrier did elsewhere. Focus on what he has done at South Carolina.
The Gamecocks (5-3) are a victory away from a fourth consecutive non-losing season for the first time in 18 years. They're in the running for a third bowl game in four years. In their previous 111 years of football, they played in 11 bowl games.
Spurrier also has made inroads against Florida, Georgia and UT.
After joining the SEC in 1992, South Carolina was 0-13 against Florida until Spurrier arrived. He beat the Gators in his first year at South Carolina and lost to them by only one point during their national championship season.
In four games against Georgia, Spurrier is 1-3 at South Carolina, but two of those losses were by a total of nine points.
South Carolina upset UT in its first season in the SEC, then lost 12 consecutive games in the series until Spurrier arrived. His first South Carolina team beat the Vols at Neyland Stadium, and his other two teams have lost by a combined 10 points, including last year in overtime.
Fulmer's recent failure against the best programs in the SEC is one of the reasons he's on the verge of losing his job. In the last four seasons, UT is 4-11 against Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia and LSU.
But since Spurrier rejoined the league, UT is also losing ground to South Carolina.
From 2005 through this season, UT is 27-19. South Carolina is 26-19.
Contrast that with the four-year period before Spurrier. From 2001 through 2004, UT was 39-13 and South Carolina was 25-21.
Now, the longtime-underdog Gamecocks are a six-point favorite against UT. What does that tell you about the Fulmer-Spurrier rivalry?
The stakes might have changed, but the favorite hasn't.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.