Despite the four most recent meetings, when Alabama has outscored Tennessee 167-39, Volunteers head coach Butch Jones continues to think the "Third Saturday in October" rivalry is the best in the Southeastern Conference.
Bless his little heart.
Q: How did you feel about the SEC's decision to keep the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry in its future scheduling, and were you fighting to preserve it?
A: Absolutely, because it's a part of our football program and the great tradition we have here. I think the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry is one of the best rivalries in the country, and I think it's the best rivalry in the Southeastern Conference. To be able to maintain that rivalry is something that we are very excited about.
The impetus of these comments, of course, was the announcement late Sunday that the SEC would not shift to a nine-game conference schedule, and that it would preserve the permanent cross-division rivalries despite protestations that it makes the schedule biased.
"Tradition matters in the SEC," commissioner Mike Slive said in the official release, "and there is no denying that tradition was a significant factor in this decision because it protects several long-standing cross-division conference rivalries."
Tennessee-Alabama is one of the most important cross-division rivalries that Slive was referring to—right up there with Auburn-Georgia in terms of prestige and historical importance.
However, Jones didn't claim it was the best cross-division rivalry in the SEC. He claimed it was the league's best rivalry, period.
In a conference that also features the Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn—especially on the heels of last year's epic finish—the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" between Florida and Georgia and whatever you want to call the modern LSU-Alabama rivalry, making such a statement sounds absurd.
According to South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier, the teams don't even dislike each other! (Per Josh Kendall of The State:)
Granted, what else is Jones supposed to say? That he's Alabama's third-biggest rival on a good day? That the game matters more to his team than it does to theirs? How would that make him look?
Let's let Jones have his moment. He's new-ish to the conference, after all, and he's done a great job getting Tennessee back on the track of its former greatness.
Four or five years from now—or heck, maybe even sooner—these comments might not seem so laughable.
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT