Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:
THIS WEEK’S BEST BET
Golf: Chevron World Challenge, Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Thursday through Sunday, Golf Channel and Channel 4:
The TV spots for this year’s Tiger Woods charity event claim that “Hollywood isn’t the only place for characters.” Not to be accused of character assassination, but by calling Woods a “game changer,” we assume it’s not so much based on the fact he changes his game every couple of years. He is grateful that he didn’t fall out of the Top 50 in the official world ranking before he was able to qualify for his own event. Sure, he could have got some kind of sponsor exemption, but then the tournament wouldn’t satisify the rules for giving out world-ranking points, thus softening the lure for the field of 18 who got invites.
The ads call Bill Haas “the champion” (he just won the FedEx Cup). Dustin Johnson is a “powerhouse,” Rickie Fowler a “rising star,” Bubba Watson the “bomber,” K.J. Choi is the “tank,” Paul Casey is the “Union Jack,” and Jason Day is the “young gun.” Graeme McDowell? No. 14 on the World Golf Rankings is a no show. He decided to head over to Japan and China the last two weeks to play in some more lucrative Euro events. As the U.S. Open champ a year ago, McDowell knocked down two clutch puts that gave him the greatest comeback win ever against Woods — the host squandered a four-shot lead as McDowell holed a 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole to force a playoff, and then hit another from almost the same spot on 18 to deny Woods a victory. What a character. Golf Channel has the first two rounds Thursday and Friday starting at 1 p.m.; NBC takes the last two (Saturday and Sunday, noon to 3 p.m.)
College basketball: UCLA vs. Pepperdine, Sports Arena, 8 p.m., Prime:
So here these Bruins sit at 1-4, ranked 226th in the nation in field goal percentage, 288th in rebounds per game and 212th in points per game. Pepperdine, meanwhile, is 306th in field goal percentage (38.5). This one could get really ugly fast. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Jay Bilas says on his blog that the Bruins’ Reeves Nelson has just about worn out his welcome and it’s time for coach Ben Howland to cut his losses. “It is easy for me to opine from afar,” wrote Bilas, who covered the Bruins’ games during the Maui Classic last week. “The talented junior has become a major distraction, and is holding his teammates hostage with his attitude and behavior. The bigger issue for me is Nelson’s body language on the court, and he seems to have little connection with his teammates. At one point, when he was taken out of the game, no one on the bench even acknowledged Nelson, and his only real emotion came from when he did something, not when a teammate did. I hope Nelson figures it out, but I think his time is running out. Howland doesn’t deserve this, and neither do UCLA’s other players.”
NHL: Kings vs. San Jose, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., FSW:
The Sharks are a plus-14 in goal differential so far, and it doesn’t matter which goalie they have in the nets — Thomas Griess (4-3, 1.99 GAA) is even more stingy than Antti Niemi (9-3, 2.37), who recorded a 4-2 win over the Kings back on Nov. 7.
NFL: N.Y. Giants at New Orleans, 5:30 p.m., ESPN:
The Giants’ giant task: Facing the Saints is followed by games against Green Bay, NFC East-leading Dallas twice, Washington and the rival N.Y. Jets. They have fallen to 31st in the league in rushing (83.2 yard a game) going without the injured Ahmad Bradshaw for the last three contests.
College basketball: Loyola Marymount vs. Saint Louis, Gersten Pavilion, 7 p.m.:
Rick Majerus’ 6-0 Billikens, who just won the 76 Classic in Anaheim by squashing Oklahoma over Thanksgiving weekend, make a stop in Westchester before heading back.
College basketball: Duke at Ohio State, 6:30 p.m., ESPN:
It ain’t the Victoria Secret Fashion Show (Channel 2, 10 p.m.), but close enough for Dick Vitale.
NHL: Pittsburgh at N.Y. Rangers, 4:30 p.m., Versus:
The Penguins are 3-0-1 since Sidney Crosby’s return.
College basketball: USC at UC Riverside, 7 p.m.:
The Trojans (3-4) have been getting nearly 14 points and more than six rebounds a game from 6-6 forward Aaron Fuller, numbers slightly better than what he did in his first two years at the University of Iowa before transferring. Before outlasting Pac-12 team Washington State in the last game of the 76 Classic in Anaheim, UCR (2-5) had only scored its previous victory against Cal Lutheran. Stan Morrison, the UC Riverside athletic director until he retired after 12 years in August, coached the Trojans’ basketball team from 1979-’86.
NHL: Kings vs. Florida, 7:30 p.m., FSW:
The Panthers entered the week leading the Southeastern Division with 35-year-old veteran Jose Theodore in the nets most nights.
NFL: Philadelphia at Seattle, 5:20 p.m., NFL Network:
The Eagles make a quick turnaround from playing last Sunday night and then flying across the country.
College football: Pac-12 title game: UCLA at Oregon, 5 p.m., Channel 11:
The last two teams that USC polished off on their non-bowl schedule meets for the right to move into the Jan. 2 Rose Bowl. With reports that Rick Neuheisel’s future in Westwood isn’t all that rosy, maybe the Bruins have one more trick up their silky white Adidas sleeves: Can they pull out another new alternate jersey that will leave Nike’s Ducks so daffy that they just roll over? Oregon has already been made a 30-point-plus favorite in some Vegas books, which has nothing to do with the fact that the Ducks downed the Bruins 60-13 last season at Autzen Stadium, as Darron Thomas threw for 308 yards.
College football: MAC title game: Ohio vs. Northern Illinois in Detroit, 4 p.m., ESPN2:
The Bobcats (9-3) are the superior team in Ohio this season.
Tennis: Davis Cup final: Argentina at Spain:
Spain’s Rafael Nadal comes into this after an early exit in last week’s ATP World Tour Finals in London, but he’s back on a red clay surface with a roof over Olympic Stadium in Seville to join David Ferrer against Argentina’s David Nalbandian and Juan Martin Del Potro. Nadal and Ferrer are a combined 25-0 in Davis play when on clay, and Spain has won four Davis Cup crowns this century: 2000 (Australia), 2004 (U.S.), 2008 (Argentina) and 2009 (Czech Republic).
College football: SEC title game: Georgia at LSU, 1 p.m., Channel 2; Big Ten title game: Wisconsin vs. Michigan State in Indianapolis, 5:15 p.m., Channel 11; ACC title game: Virginia Tech vs. Clemson in Charlotte, N.C., 5 p.m., ESPN; Conference USA title game: Southern Miss at Houston, 9 a.m., Channel 7:
What happens when Georgia knocks off No. 1 LSU to win the SEC, but the Tigers still make it to the BCS title game against conference rival Alabama because that’s what the pollsters and computers say is the best matchup? The Wisconsin-Michigan State game is a rematch of the one that ended with the Spartans pulling off a Hail Mary on the final play to win 37-31 on Oct. 22. And Houston could be the only undefeated team left when the day’s play ends.
College football: Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, 5 p.m., Channel 7; Texas at Baylor, Channel 7, 12:30 p.m.:
No title game in the Big 12 this year, which only has the 10 teams remaining. You’ll have to be satisfied with watching Robert Griffin III having another top-notch Heisman Trophy look against the Longhorns.
College football: Syracuse at Pittsburgh, 9 a.m., ESPN2; Iowa State at Kansas State, 12:30 p.m., Prime; UNLV at TCU, 11:30 a.m., Versus; New Mexico at Boise State, 3 p.m., MNT; BYU at Hawaii, 4:30 p.m., ESPN2; Fresno State at San Diego State, 5 p.m., CBS Sports Network:
The rest of the schedule, with ranked teams still playing, and one of them, trying to finish an undefeated regular season.
College basketball: UCLA vs. Texas, Sports Arena, 1:30 p.m., Prime:
Longhorns junior guard J’Covan Brown has put up 35 (against Rhode Island), 28 (against Boston University) and 25 (against Oregon State) while leading the team in assists (6.4 a game).
College basketball: USC at Minnesota, 11:15 a.m., Big Ten Network:
Gophers coach Tubby Smith is still waiting for 6-foot-11 senior center Ralph Sampson III to start living up to his name.
College basketball: North Carolina at Kentucky, 9 a.m., Channel 2:
CBS starts its college hoops season sending Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg to Rupp Arena, where the Wildcats happen to be ranked No. 1, playing the Tar Heels, who were No. 1 very recently.
NHL: Kings vs. Montreal, Staples Center, 12:30 p.m., FSW:
The Canadiens, who stop over in Anaheim on Wednesday before this one, are in the top three in the league in penalty killing at better than 90 percent.
Boxing: Miguel Cotto vs. Antonio Margarito, New York, 6 p.m., pay per view:
Three years ago, Cotto suffered his first loss as Margarito wore him out via a TKO in the 11th round. But then, did Margarito, who captured the WBA welterweight belt, accomplish it with plaster wraps inside his gloves? The New York State Athletic Commission only recently approved a license to Margarito, coming back from surgery on his right eye to remove a cataract that developed after Manny Pacquiao broke Margarito’s orbital bone during their fight a year ago. Promoter Bob Arum might have been forced to move this world super welterweight title fight out of Madison Square Garden if the license wasn’t granted. They’re asking $54.95 for this one. Can you wrap your wallet around that, or is buying “Larry Crowne” with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts on an all-day pass for much less a better value?
Boxing: Abner Mares vs. Joseph Agbeko, Anaheim’s Honda Center, 6 p.m., Showtime (delayed at 9 p.m.):
Mares (22-0-1) of Hawaiian Gardens defends his IFB and WBC silver bantamweight titles against the two-time IBF bantamweight world champ in a card in Anaheim that includes Anselmo Moreno defending his WBA bantamweight title against Vic Darchinyan.
NFL: Detroit at New Orleans, 5:20 p.m., Channel 4:
The original schedule had Indianapolis at New England in this slot, but NBC flexed out of it. Wise move.