No, it didn't erase all of the memories of the failed 2005 campaign, but it did present a program that was reestablishing itself as a contender. The Vols were competitive in every game except Arkansas, and was a mouse's burp from beating both Florida and LSU. That's a convincing selling point that plays a lot better with high-profile prospects than explaining a 5-6 record.
Winfield committed to UT six months ago but made a visit to Columbia, S.C., last weekend and announced his switch Thursday. The 5-10, 200-pound, three-star prospect had 80 tackles, five fumble recoveries and a pair of INTs as a senior at Carver High School.
"I switched my commitment from Tennessee to South Carolina," Winfield told Jonathan Jolley of Gamecock Anthem.com. "The main reason is because I can go there and play linebacker in college. I also sat down and talked with some of the players on my official visit, and they were telling me how much they like it down there."
Another factor that played into his decision was the opportunity for early playing time, which he viewed as better at South Carolina.
"They said it really depends on what I do when I come down there," he told Jolley. "They said they are only going to bring in two linebackers, so whoever they bring in, they must really want them. As opposed to Tennessee, they are bringing in several DBs, and they already have DBs there."
Undoubtedly UT will bring more DBs in even with the recent addition of JUCO corner DeAngelo Willingham to the class. However they lost out on another JC DB when five-star prospect Terry Mixon of Grossmont chose to remain in California and play for Cal.
Otherwise the Vols are in on some big names including No.1 corner Eric Berry, of Fairburn, Ga., and No. 2 corner Ronald Johnson of Muskegon, Mich. They're also a fringe contender for No. 4 safety Stefoin Francis. Naturally, the competition is intense for these lofty targets and UT would be fortunate to land any from this trio, although they remain a strong contender for Berry, a legacy whose father James Berry was a two-year starter at tailback under Johnny Majors.
Tennessee is trying to get an official visit sometime during January from No. 11 safety Morgan Burnnett of College Park, Ga. He visited Georgia Tech last weekend and remains interested in Auburn, Alabama, Virginia Tech, South Carolina and UT. Georgia is the team to beat and the Vols are a long shot. He made an unofficial visit to Knoxville for the Kentucky game.
Other viable options are No. 15 corner Brandon Paul, 5-10, 185, 4.40, of Lincoln High School in Tallahassee. UT has a commitment from his teammate Deshaun Barnes, 6-1, 200, 4.57, who plays safety but projects as a LB at Tennessee. The Vols have offered No. 20 corner Ryan Broyles of Norman, Okla., and No. 22 CB James Scott of Sea Breeze, Fla.
Scout.com's No. 27 safety prospect is of great interest to UT fans. Harrision Smith of Knoxville Catholic is expected to choose between Tennessee and Notre Dame, although Auburn is a fringe contender. Recent speculations and ruminations have him leaning to the Fighting Irish.
With both starting safeties returning and both starting corners moving on, it's clear UT is emphasizing corners, but there's no shortage of athletes, slotted for other positions in this class, to convert to safeties, including Art Evans, C.J. Fleming, Anthony Anderson, Todd Campbell, Josh Hawkins, Dennis Rogan and Daryl Vereen.
In other recruiting news:
• Defensive linemen Donald Langley and Rufus Williams remain soft verbals to Tennessee, but are also weighing their options. Langley, who has been named to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl is taking a second look at Penn State, which his parents favor. Williams a three-star defensive end from Titusville, Fla., is considering Ole Miss.
• No. 1 rated center prospect Krisofer O'Dowd has committed to USC. The Vols did receive an official visit from the five-star O-lineman for the Florida game. That was the greatest distance he strayed from his Arizona home for a visit. His other visits were to Arizona, UCLA and USC.