Non-Conference Game Drawing Plenty of Interest

FAYETTEVILLE -- Athletic director Frank Broyles and coach Houston Nutt didn't know what they were getting into when Arkansas announced a two-year, home-and-home series in the spring of 2001.

Sure, the Trojans won nine national championships, produced four Heisman Trophy winners and were considered one of college football's all-time giants. But they didn't have much to cheer about throughout the 1990s, producing one nine-win season (1995) in an 11-year span.

Then came coach Pete Carroll.

And two more Heisman winners.

And two more national championships.

The first game of the series, Saturday at top-ranked USC, won't be easy for Nutt and the Hogs. But the two-time, defending national champions have been good for ticket sales. Broyles said Arkansas fans have purchased 5,300 of its allotted 6,000 tickets, which is second most for a road game in school history behind the 2003 Arkansas-Ole Miss game in Oxford.

"I understand why we do it," Nutt said about scheduling a marquee game against a non-conference opponent. "I think it's good. It brings a lot of excitement. I hear we're going to have close to 5,000, 6,000 Razorbacks travel all the way to California. I think that says a lot for our program. That there's so much interest and so much fanfare that they'd take that long of a trip. I'm appreciative."

Broyles has joked several times that he should be fired for scheduling a game against the two-time, defending national champions. But the Trojans went 6-6 in 1999 and 5-7 under former coach Paul Hackett when the deal was signed.

Broyles, who already orchestrated a home-and-home series with Texas (2003 and 2004), thought the NCAA was going to adopt the 12-game season on a permanent basis and wanted to add a big opponent for 2005 and 2006.

"We looked for a team that would be a significant contest for our fans and something we haven't done for a long time," Broyles said. "I think they were looking for a game at the same time we were looking for a game."

It didn't take long for Carroll to turn the program around. The Trojans went 6-6 in his first season (2001). Since, they've gone 11-2, 12-1 and 13-0.

Nutt was asked about the series before it was finalized, but admitted he didn't offer much input because he was busy preparing for his fourth year with the Hogs.

"You have the (Southeastern Conference schedule) and you're always a little unsure about taking on another powerhouse," Nutt said. "At the time they weren't.

"I was so focused on the season at hand. Talking about 2005 to me seems like 10 light years away. It wasn't really that much focus or input on my part because I was worried about what's going on in 2001."

So the Razorbacks will play the nation's top-ranked team for the second time under Nutt, joining the 28-24 loss at Tennessee in 1998. Broyles said it's "a significant opportunity" for the program and believes fans are looking forward to the trip even after last Saturday's disappointing, 28-24 loss to Vanderbilt.

So is Carroll, who will coach against a familiar program. Carroll was a graduate assistant on former Arkansas coach Lou Holtz's staff in 1977.

"This is really a fun matchup for us," Carroll said. "A little bit of background of my old days being at Arkansas way back when.

"It's just fun to have this kind of matchup."

Back To Work
Arkansas didn't spend much time dwelling on the Vandy loss. In fact, safety Vickiel Vaughn said it was out of the Hogs' system Sunday night.

"Honestly, it was a good start for us," Vaughn said about Sunday's practice. "We took it as, we can't look back. Everybody came out focused, ready to practice. The intensity was up. Nobody slacked. Nobody still had thoughts about the game even though it was the night before. For the most part, we had a pretty good practice."

Vaughn said the Hogs must forget the loss and believes "what's done is done." The goal now, he said, is to concentrate on Saturday's game.

Receiver Marcus Monk said there hasn't been any finger-pointing and "everybody is sticking together." The sophomore said the loss hurt, but hasn't ruined hopes.

"We believe in ourselves," Monk said. "Just because one game didn't go the way we wanted it to go, we can't get down on ourselves. We're confident and we're just practicing and getting ready for (USC)."

Players of Week
Arkansas' athletic department Web site, Hogwired.com, announced its players of the week for the Vanderbilt game Monday: Running back De'Arrius Howard, defensive tackle Marcus Harrison and punter Jacob Skinner.

Howard rushed for a career-high 139 yards on 21 carries and scored a 39-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Harrison recorded nine tackles, one for a loss And Skinner averaged 42.7 yards on six punts. Three of them were downed inside the 20.

The players of the week are voted on by Arkansas' coaches after each game.

Alabama Game Time
The Arkansas-Alabama game on Sept. 24 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., will be televised by either CBS Sports or Jefferson-Pilot Sports.

CBS exercised its six-day option Monday and will have until next Sunday to decide whether it wants to broadcast Arkansas-Alabama or Florida-Kentucky. Either way, the Razorbacks will play their first day game of the season at Alabama and kickoff will be at 11:30 a.m. (Jefferson-Pilot) or 2:30 p.m. (CBS).

In addition, the Sept. 24 Tennessee-LSU game was picked up by ESPN and kickoff is set for 6:45 p.m. Georgia-Mississippi State will play at 8 that night on ESPN2.

Cutler Earns Honor
Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler was named Southeastern Conference offensive player of the week Monday. The senior completed 23 of 45 passes for 278 yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception in the win at Arkansas.

Cutler was 14 of 21 for 178 yards and 2 touchdowns in the fourth quarter, leading Vanderbilt to 15 points after falling behind 24-13. He also rushed for a touchdown in the first half on a one-yard plunge.

"We knew that Jay Cutler was an excellent quarterback who has a lot of experience," Nutt said. "We knew how accurate he was."

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