Hogs Shift USC Game

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas will open the 2006 football season on national TV. The only problem: It's against Southern California.

After a month of discussions, ESPN has finalized a deal that will allow Arkansas and USC to face each other in Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Sept. 2 -- a week earlier than originally scheduled. The time of the game has not been determined yet, but Arkansas coach Houston Nutt has been in favor of the change of plans since it was first suggested.

"We are excited about the opportunity to open the season against USC on national television," Nutt said Tuesday in a statement released through the school. "We are obviously aware of the tradition and the tremendous success of the USC program, especially in the last few seasons. I know our players will use this game as motivation during the offseason and during spring practice."

The Razorbacks will be seeking to avenge last season's embarrassing 70-17 loss to the Trojans in Los Angeles. During that game, Arkansas' defense failed to slow down USC's high-powered offense and gave up a school-record 736 yards of total offense.

The Hogs were originally scheduled to open the season against Louisiana-Monroe in War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock on Sept. 2. But the game was pushed back to Oct. 28 in order to accommodate the change with USC.

In addition, Arkansas has moved its game with Utah State from Oct. 28 to Sept. 9 -- the date which was originally scheduled for USC to play in Fayetteville.

"ESPN asked us to consider (opening the season with USC), and so I talked to Houston about it," Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles said. "He thought it would be a good idea, and so we let them make the switch."

Broyles said Arkansas will not benefit any more financially from opening its season against USC on ESPN. But the Razorbacks liked the idea and gave ESPN officials the permission to speak with other schools about changing dates.

"I didn't talk to anybody," Broyles said. "ESPN did." ESPN spent several weeks trying to coordinate all the dates, but the network was willing to do so in order to get the rematch between Arkansas and USC on national TV.

"We wanted to kick off the season with a bang, and this is a great game to achieve that," said Dave Brown, ESPN vice president of programming and acquisitions. "We certainly noted how well Arkansas played down the stretch, and there is a lot of intrigue surrounding USC heading into the season with new players in several positions."

USC will be without its three biggest offensive weapons from last year's team that missed out on a third consecutive national championship, losing 41-38 loss to Texas in the Rose Bowl.

Running backs Reggie Bush and LenDale White announced earlier this month that they were both skipping their senior years to enter the NFL Draft.

The Trojans must also replace quarterback Matt Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner who passed on the chance to be the first pick in the NFL Draft so he could return to USC for his senior season.

Leinart threw for 381 yards and four touchdowns, and Bush got his Heisman Trophy campaign started by rushing eight times for 125 yards and one touchdown and catching three passes for 70 yards and another score in USC's 53-point win over Arkansas last September.

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