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Thought experiment: what if you switched every Tennessee-Florida result of the Butch Jones era?

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Several of these were close games, so changing just a few plays could have everything looking very different right now.

When Butch Jones took the Tennessee job in December 2012, the Vols were in the midst of an eight-game losing streak to Florida. That stretched to 11 games before Tennessee finally got a win in 2016.

Butch lost the Florida game this year, and, while his record in this rivalry series is far from the main reason he’s on the hot seat, we got to wondering: how different are the Volunteer and Gator coaching worlds if you flip all of these results around, especially considering three of them came down to one play or so?

2013: Tennessee makes a bowl instead of finishing 5-7 (the Vols didn’t make one in the last two Derek Dooley seasons).

That and the end of the Florida streak probably make Butch Jones popular in year 1.

Meanwhile, remember how Florida went 4-8 this year? Yeah, now it’s 3-9. For my own sanity, I need to believe that gets Will Muschamp fired rather than sticking around for one more disappointing season. I know I’m probably wrong. Just let me have this.

2014: 8-5’s not that much more interesting than 7-6, but, hey, now YOU have a streak over the Gators, Tennessee!

The Gators only won this game 10-9, and Tennessee had the ball at the Florida 48 with a minute left, so flipping this result isn’t that reality-altering.

Florida, having had a game against Idaho canceled earlier in the year and now only has five wins, which means the Gators might not be bowl eligible and Adam Lane doesn’t get to poop his pants in Birmingham. At least not as part of a team event.

2015: This is the big one.

In our timeline, Florida wins the SEC East in Jim McElwain’s first season.

This one isn’t hard to flip either. Florida scored the last touchdown on fourth-and-14, and Tennessee BARELY missed a 55-yard field goal to win anyway.

But with this flip, Tennessee’s going to the conference championship for the first time in eight seasons. Even if the Vols don’t beat Alabama, Jones now has a team that’s gotten two wins better every year and gone from seventh in the East the year before his hire to the top of the division. That alone buys him goodwill to last a while.

Florida still wins nine games, and everyone in Gainesville is fine with that for Year 1 under a new coach, though fans have to be wondering when they’re finally going to break this losing streak against Tennessee.

2016: Turns out it’s this year, Gators! Florida (still) wins the East; now McElwain’s the one who gets to show he’s improving the program year over year.

The 9-3 Gators probably wind up in the Sugar Bowl ahead of 8-4 Auburn, instead of the Outback.

Tennessee finishes a really disappointing sixth, but even the most jaded fan has to admit Jones is a major improvement over the last two coaches. It’s just one bumpy year. Arguably, it’s less painful to be out of the division race in November than to beat Florida and Georgia but then lose the East title because you couldn’t beat unranked South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

2017: Tennessee’s back to owning the Gators.

Also not hard to flip, since Florida won it on the last play.

Florida and Tennessee are still well behind Georgia in the East. But by changing three or four plays in one rivalry, Tennessee now has a coach who’s consistently beating the Gators and has been to the SEC Championship. McElwain becomes the first Florida coach to have a losing record against the Vols since Bob Woodruff in the 1950s, and he’s down one of his two SEC East titles. If he’s already facing the hot seat in real life, imagine how much worse it gets if you add that.

In August, Bill Connelly showed the only real difference between McElwain and Muschamp was an unsustainable record of success in close games:

The chief difference is has been tossup games. In four seasons, Muschamp went 9-10 in games decided by one possession. His 11-win 2012 featured a 4-1 record in such games; he was 18-19 otherwise, with a 5-9 record in the close ones.

McElwain is 7-1. He has been blown out (we’ll call a blowout a loss by 17-plus points) five times, while Muschamp suffered such a loss seven times in four years. But he wins the close ones. That might be a sign of luck, and it might be a sign of skill, and there’s no way to tell yet.

Oh, we’ve also created a world where Butch Jones has as many wins against Florida in five years as Phil Fulmer did in 16 full seasons.

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