ESPN recently ranked the Tennessee-Florida contest as the game with the highest stakes in all of college football in 2016.
Butch Jones doesn’t quite see it the same way.
Jones was asked at the SEC Spring Meetings in Destin on Tuesday about the weight of the Florida rivalry and how much 11 straight losses – including back-to-back games that the Vols gave away in the fourth quarter – to the Gators has affected the program.
“We have the same model – follow the process one game at a time,” Jones told reporters. “I’ve always said it: The teams that win in November and December are the teams that can manage and handle the natural adversities that a long football season brings. And there’s always great opportunities to learn. Unfortunately, most learning opportunities occur when you lose and fall short in a game.
“But our players have been very focused. That’s the thing about this conference – no one game is more important than the others. I know the fans get into all this, but when you’re going through a long season of SEC play, every game is critical because of the competency of the teams, the coaches, all that. It’s the reason why it’s the best football conference in the country.”
And what kind of step would it be for the Vols to beat the Gators when they come to Knoxville on Sept. 24 of this season and end the streak in the process?
“I haven’t even thought of that,” Jones continued. “I think [Florida] will be one of the best teams, if not the best team, in our conference when you look at their defense, when you look at their returning starters. You look at Georgia – I think Georgia is one of the best teams in the conference not just on the East side, but total. So when you look at the competition on our side, it’s going to be a great challenge for us.”