Play It Forward: Aug. 27-Sept. 2 on your sports calendar

Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:

THIS WEEK’S BEST BET

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(AP Photo/Jae Hong, File)
After USC’s win last November against UCLA, Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley seemed pretty happy. The rest of the USC family was more than happy to see him return for a senior year.

College football:
UCLA at Rice, Thursday at 4:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network
USC vs. Hawaii, Coliseum, Saturday at 4:30 p.m., Channel 11

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Happiness is a warm ranking. Like the No. 1 spot USC received, after spending the last two years in the solitary confinement of NCAA probation, from the Associated Press and ESPN.com voters. “It’s cool for us, for our fan base and the people who stuck with us and endured the sanctions,” said Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Matt Barkley, starting his senior season as a four-year starter. Four other Pac-12 schools were in the top 30 vote-getters in the AP rankings. The Bruins aren’t quite there yet. The happy thoughts are on what some feel could be a leap for UCLA’s exposure if it not only gets past this opener against Rice, but then figures out how to knock off Nebraska in Week 2. Can new coach Jim Mora change people’s doubts? “College football is all about change,” said UCLA newly named starting quarterback Brett Hundley, showing the wisdom of a redshirt freshman. “We just got to get better and keep it moving with the new coach we got.” Rice was voted by the media to finish fifth in the Conference USA’s six-team West Division, so rankings must not mean all that much on the Houston campus. But there is one that’s worth noting: Rice (enrollment: 3,755) was named No. 1 by the Princeton Review last week for having the “happiest students.” Maybe it comes with having low expectations.

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USC (enrollment: 17,414) actually ranks No. 9 on that “happiest” list — and that was before those AP rankings were released. In the Trojans’ opener, there’ll be another smiling face on the other sideline. Norm Chow, USC’s former acclaimed offensive guru, finally has a head coaching job at age 65. “I am excited and energized about creating a program that will make all of the people of Hawaii feel pride for the university and our state,” he said at the time of his hiring. “I am looking forward to coming home, to family and friends, and I am going to do my best to contribute to the rich history of Hawaii and its progress.” But first, another kind of homecoming. To the Coliseum. Who’s going to bring the pig to put on the spit for the first weekend of college football.

MONDAY

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By Susan Mullane, US Presswire
Serena Williams shows off her athleticism during her third-round win against Victoria Azarenka in last year’s U.S. Open.

Tennis: U.S. Open, first round matches, 10 a.m.-to-8 p.m., ESPN2; 7:30 a.m.-to-4 p.m., Tennis Channel:

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We’re kind of split on how Serena Williams might fare in this annual Flushing Meadows Revival at the 22,500-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium. A year ago, she walked into the place and was knocked around by Aussie Samantha Stousur in the women’s final. She comes back this year with a Wimbledon — her 15th career Grand Slam event — and Olympic gold medal victory, both in England, on her recent highlight reel, but she’s only the fourth seed this time. She didn’t look all that sharp at the recent WTA’s Cincinnati event, losing her cool in a 6-4, 6-4 loss to Angelique Kerber in the semifinals — the first sets she had dropped since Wimbledon in July.

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“Serena will have to work harder at the U.S. Open than she did at Wimbledon,” said Chris Evert, an ESPN2 analyst for the event. “She had a lot of free points at Wimbledon and the Olympics because it was on grass and shots didn’t come back. She dictated every point. This is going to be a different story. She’s going to have to run down a lot more balls and get a lot more balls back, be more consistent and probably be even in better shape. So therein the question lies: Can she do it. Of course, she can. But will she do it? I’m not 100 percent sure.” When Serena showed up on David Letterman’s show last week, her tight red dress quickly caught the eye of the host. Letterman asked if it would be great if she could play in that thing. “Wouldn’t that be great?” Williams laughed. “Of course, I wouldn’t get to any balls.”

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On the men’s side, top-seed Roger Federer could get a third meeting in the last two months against Andy Murray in the semifinals, and Novak Djokovic can’t reach the final without first facing Federer or Murray.
ESPN2 has first-week action Monday through Friday in that 10-hour window, with Tennis Channel’s “U.S. Open Tonight” show (8-to-11:30 p.m.) adding to the coverage. CBS takes over on the weekend (Channel 2, Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Channel 2). In addition, CBS Sports Network has outer-court coverage of men’s and women’s third round matches simultaneously from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Tennis Channel has the live prime-time coverage from 4-to-8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

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(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
The helmets of newly acquired Dodgers Nick Punto, left, and Adrian Gonzalez sit in the dugout prior to the game against the Marlins on Saturday.

MLB: Dodgers at Colorado, 5:40 p.m., Channel 9:

Josh Beckett gets to prove his worth to the Dodgers’ NL West chase by going to the mound in Denver. Will he get a nose bleed? No worries: Beckett has a lifetime record of 3-0 at Coors Field in four career starts, with a 3.60 ERA (10 earned runs in 25 innings) when he pitched for Florida from 2001-05. This is the first of what could become eight regular-season starts for Beckett down the stretch for the Dodgers, as he essentially takes the place of the 15-day DL’s Chad Billingsley in the rotation for the time being. The series continues Tuesday (5:40 p.m., Channel 9) and Wednesday (12:10 p.m., Prime). The Rockies somehow took two out of three against the Dodgers in their last meeting at Dodger Stadium in early August.

TUESDAY

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MLB: Angels vs. Boston, Angel Stadium, 7:05 p.m., FSW:

When they hooked up in Boston last week, somehow the Angels swept all three, including the wild finale, 14-13 in 10 innings. Then again, the Red Sox are under .500 at home, and 30-29 on the road. And now they have James Loney … and a bunch of other guys. The series continues Wednesday (7:05 p.m., FSW) and Thursday (7:05 p.m., FSW).

WEDNESDAY

Paralympic Games, London:

Twenty-one events are included in the event tied to the able-bodied Summer Games, running through Sept. 9. South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius, who became the first male athlete with a disability to compte in the able-bodied Games, returns to defend his titles in the 100, 200 and 400 meter events, where he took gold in Beijing in the T44 category. American Jerome Singleton actually defeated Pistorius in a race last January, and U.S. teammate Blake Leeper equaled Pistorius’ record time in the 100, are both up for the challenge. The men’s T44 100m final takes is Sept. 6. More information: http://www.london2012.com/paralympics/sports

THURSDAY

MLB: Dodgers vs. Arizona, Dodger Stadium, 7:10 p.m., Prime:

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Vin Scully returning for his 64th season was enough to make KTLA Channel 5′s Rebecca Hall get herself in someone’s Hall of Fame with some kind of out-of-context curse on the air (above). (UPDATE: The Tribune Company, which owns Channel 5 and the L.A. Times, believes you’re better off not watching it, and has ordered it off YouTube, citing trademark rights. Try Deadspin.com instead). Meanwhile, the traffic jams getting into the ballpark for the first and probably only Scully bobblehead giveaway to open this four-game series will leave frustrated drivers pulling up a chair and sitting in the middle of Sunset Blvd., cursing themselves as they listen to Scully describe the first three innings on the radio. Clayton Kershaw is scheduled to face Ian Kennedy in that one. The series continues Friday (7:10 p.m.), Saturday (6:10 p.m., with the bring your dog to the park promotion) and Sunday (1:10 p.m.).

College football:
Northern Colorado at Utah, 4:15 p.m., Pac-12 Network
Washington State at BYU, 7:15 p.m., ESPN
Northern Arizona at Arizona State, 7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network:

Three more Pac-12 games (in addition to UCLA playing at Rice) start the weekend. Can Mike Price keep himself out of trouble in his first game as the Cougars’ head coach while in Salt Lake City?

NFL exhibitions: Oakland at Seattle, 7 p.m.; San Diego at San Francisco, 7 p.m.:

The last chance to pay excessive ticket prices to see a contest that means nothing to no one other than concession stand owners.

WNBA: Sparks at Tulsa, 5 p.m.:

On a nine-game win streak, the Western Conference’s second-place Sparks (12-1 at home, 7-5 away from Staples Center) head out on a five-game road trip that includes Sunday in Chicago (3 p.m., KDOC).

FRIDAY

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MLB: Angels at Seattle, 7:10 p.m., FSW:

Not that the Angels really need a run-in with Felix Hernandez at this point in the pennant stretch, but they’ll likely see him in a special Saturday day contest (1 p.m., Channel 11). The series ends Sunday (1:10 p.m., FSW).

College football:
Boise State at Michigan State, 5 p.m. ESPN
San Jose State at Stanford, 7 p.m., Pac-12 Network:

The pollsters were kind enough to include the Kellen Moore-less Boise Staters in the preseason rankings — No. 24 by the AP and ESPN.com’s Power Rankings, No. 22 in the USA Today coaches list, But then, these Spartans are in the Top 13 in each of those polls as well. And the Andrew Luck-less Cardinal are clinging to No. 21 in the AP rankings.

SATURDAY

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Getty Images
Michigan senior quarterback Denard Robinson, sixth in the 2010 Heisman voting, lead a team ranked No. 8 in the preseason AP poll. Saturday’s opponent, defending national champion Alabama, is ranked No. 2.

College football:
Navy vs. Notre Dame in Dublin, Ireland, 6 a.m., Channel 2
Ohio at Penn State, 9 a.m., ESPN
Nichols State at Oregon State/Nevada at Cal, noon, Pac-12 Network
Miami at Boston College, 12:30 p.m., Channel 7
Colorado vs. Colorado State in Denver, 1 p.m., FX
Clemson vs. Auburn in Atlanta, 4 p.m., ESPN
North Texas at LSU, 4 p.m., ESPNU
Michigan vs. Alabama in Arlington, Tex., 5 p.m., Channel 7
Arkansas State at Oregon, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
Toledo at Arizona, 7:30 p.m., ESPNU
San Diego State at Washington, 7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network:

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The first Saturday of college football 2012 begins at 6 a.m. PDT in Dublin, includes appareances by the top three pre-season ranked teams going up against each other on the East Coast prime-time TV window, and ends somewhere past 10:30 p.m. in Seattle, Eugene, Ore., and Tucson, Ariz. That’s a stretch of 16 straight viewing hours you are properly prepped for the experience.
The Notre Dame-Navy contest is 2 p.m. in Ireland, 9 a.m. on the East Coast, and 3 a.m. in Hawaii — the home state of Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo. The series goes back to 1927, making it the longest uninterrupted intersectional meeting in college football. And while Notre Dame leads it 71-12-1, including a 54-27 win over the Midshipmen when they last went to Ireland in 1996, the deceiving part is that Navy has won in 2010, ’09 and ’07. CBS has an interesting slant on this as well: Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson are in the booth calling it, with usual PGA course reporter and Ireland native David Feherty hired to work the sidelines with Tracy Wolfson.
The Irish start without suspended quarterback Tommy Rees and linebacker Carlo Calabrese. Penn State starts its first season in decades without Joe Paterno, but trying on a new uniform to show they’ve moved forward. And LSU goes without its punished Honey Badger. The Crimson Tide and Wolverines, meanwhile, are without a home-field advantage here since the game is at the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium. Michigan gave up its home game for the price of $4.5 million, according to the Detroit News. Michigan AD Dave Brandon said: “We were asked to play a really big-time opponent in a really big-time venue. ESPN wanted it to be us, Alabama wanted it to be us. Two historic programs — that’s what we do. … ESPN worked with (Cowboys owner) Jerry Jones and the Cowboys organization and they figured out a strategy that could make it work.” Works for us.

MLS: Galaxy vs. Vancouver, Home Depot Center, 7 p.m., KDOC-Channel 56:

Not sure yet if Landon Donovan will retire after this game. Seriously, no one really knows (see this link).

SUNDAY

College football:
Kentucky at Louisville, 12:30 p.m., ESPN
SMU at Baylor, 3:30 p.m., FSN:

The last NFL-quiet Sunday gives way to a couple of college games. No more RGIII shows, kids.

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