Play It Forward: Jan. 7-13

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

THIS WEEK’S BEST BET

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: BCS National Championship in Miami: No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Alabama, today at 5:30 p.m., ESPN:

The SEC has won the last six straight national titles – three of them belonging to ‘Bama – so maybe it not shocking seeing the Crimson Tide anywhere from a six-to-10-plus point favorite in this final game of the college football season. But then, Notre Dame is as close to America’s team in this sport, and many are pulling for the Irish to win its first national title since 1988. Where do your loyalties lie? “I think every other conference and every other fan base outside of those 14 (SEC) teams are passionately rooting against Alabama,” said ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who’ll call the game with Brent Musburger. “And what’s interesting in this case – Notre Dame is such a polarizing team, where everybody, no matter where you grew up, you either love or can’t stand Notre Dame. So a lot of people out there are going to have to make a tough decision on who to pull for.” Then you’ve got those who claim they dislike both, so they aren’t going to watch. “I think anybody that takes the time to make a comment like that, clearly they’ll be watching,” said Herbstreit. “They’ll, in fact, watch the four hours of pregame that we have before the game and be blogging and tweeting about how wrong everybody is on those shows.” The 2006 USC-Texas title game at the Rose Bowl set the TV record for one of these events with a 21.7 rating – but it was also on ABC, not ESPN. Will this one exceed it? Probably best to tune in and find out.

BEST OF THE REST:

MONDAY

GOLF: PGA Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Maui, first and second rounds, 1-8 p.m., Golf Channel:
Didn’t we try this already? When balls are getting blown off the tees and pushed across the Plantation Course greens at Kapalua on their own – as well as caps continually bouncing through the fairways – the only thing the PGA could do was try again to restart the first 36 holes of this season-opener, then end it Tuesday as a 54-hole event. Good luck with that.

TUESDAY

NBA: Lakers at Houston, 5 p.m., TWC SportsNet:
Here’s the alternative: The Lakers’ D-League D-Fenders face the Idaho Stampede in the Reno Event Center in Reno, Nev., and CBS Sports Network has it (7 p.m.). If the Lakers are getting crushed in the second half by James Harden, flip over to see who may be the future of the franchise.

WEDNESDAY

BASEBALL: Hall of Fame voting announcement, Wednesday at 11 a.m., MLB Network:
There are 37 names on the ballot, and 13 first-timers – like Barry Bonds (762 homers), Roger Clemens (354 wins), Mike Piazza (427 homers) and Sammy Sosa (609 homers). And like Craig Biggio (3,060 hits) and Curt Schilling (216 wins, plus 11 in the postseason). Then why to those last two have a better shot at getting elected than the first four? Is Jack Morris (on his 14th try, 48 votes shy last year) finally due? Lee Smith, Tim Raines or Jeff Bagwell? The 70th annual Hall of Fame election awaits overanalysis.  But then, if we’re going to start a debate, doesn’t a Hall that continues to exclude Gil Hodges, Steve Garvey or Dick Allen have a few major holes in it?

NBA: Clippers vs. Dallas, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., ESPN, Prime:
Dirk Nowitzki’s return to the 13-21 Mavs’ lineup, after missing the first 27 games with a scoped right knee, is, by his own admission, “a work in progress, especially playing 30 minutes and then being asked to get the ball down the stretch every time and make something happen. I don’t think I’m at that point yet … I’d still like to think if I’m healthy all year and playing at the level I finished last year, we’d be a lot closer to the eight spot.” Blake Griffin and Chris Paul each had a double-double in the Clippers’ 22-point win over the Mavs on Dec. 5. Former Clippers Elton Brand and Chris Kaman combined for 28 points in that one for the Mavs, who’ve been relying more on the offensive output of O.J. Mayo much of this season.

NBA: Lakers at San Antonio, 5 p.m., ESPN, TWC SportsNet:
When the Spurs topped the 76ers the other night, it was the 819th time Tim Duncan played in a victorious Spurs contest. He’s also played in just 327 losses, giving him a .715 winning percentage – best among the 105 players in NBA history who have competed in at least 1,000 games. So says the Elias Sports Bureau.

COLLEGE BASKETBAL: Cal State Northridge at Long Beach State, 7 p.m.:
The Matadors’ 0-3 start to the Big West may be rationalized by having two losses by a combined four points, but the 19-point slipup against visiting Cal State Fullerton seems more baffling. The 49ers (6-8, 2-1) average only 10.9 assists a game – 299th in the NCAA. To finish the week, CSUN also faces UC Irvine (Saturday, 4 p.m., Prime), while Long Beach State hosts Hawaii (Saturday, 4 p.m.)

Terrell Owens and Antonio Sabato Jr. show off their form.

“STARS IN DANGER: THE HIGH DIVE,” 8 p.m, Channel 11:
Fox actually promoted this quasi-reality show, part “Dancing with the Stars,” minor-league “Fear Factor” during the Cotton Bowl, on the premise that there’s some athletic activity involved in making people who have some celebrity go off a high dive in front of a live audience on a two-hour program. Nine are trained to work their way up the platform to create the tension as to who’ll bail out because of a fear of heights, and who’ll be brave enough to face this “danger” and actually, well, dive. NFL washout Terrell Owens is one of them we recognize. So is surfer Bethany Hamilton, famous for surviving the shark attack that took her left arm. Alexandra Paul is the former “Baywatch” lifeguard who now competes in triathlons.  Stephen “Twitch” Boss, “Jersey Shore” cast member JWoww, David Chokachi, “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” sisters Kim and Kyle Richards and Antonio Sabato Jr., are the other “competitors.” Entertainment Weekly, in a recent post about the show with “exclusive” first-look photos, also commented: “You know, Fox’s big twist is there’s no water in the pool, right?” Stay tuned: ABC will have a “Celebrity Diving” show of its own in March.

THURSDAY

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: UCLA at Utah, 6:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network; USC at Colorado, 7 p.m., ESPNU:
These Bruins (12-3, 2-0) may be on a seven-game win streak, but they’ve led a pretty sheltered life. The three times they’ve played away from home have been on neutral courts – in Brooklyn (to face Georgetown and Georgia), in Anaheim (for San Diego State) and in Houston (to meet up with the University of Texas). This bold trek to Salt Lake City and Boulder, Colo., will be a test of nerves for freshman-heavy UCLA. Plus, there’s a better chance that Colorado will get the benefit of the call this time if one of its players hits a 3-pointer at the end of regulation with the game on the line. Saturday, UCLA goes to Colorado (11 a.m., Pac-12 Network) and USC is at Utah (3 p.m., Pac-12 Network).

GOLF: PGA Sony Open at Honolulu, first round, 5 p.m., Golf Channel:
The way this is working, someone could win two Tour events in the same seven-day calendar week. This one is scheduled to finish Sunday, wind pending at Waialae Country Club. Aloha.

FRIDAY

NBA: Lakers vs. Oklahoma City, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., ESPN, TWC SportsNet:
The Thunder’s six-point win over the Lakers in early December ended with Metta World Peace grabbing and barking at Serge Ibaka, enough to where Ibaka grabbed a piece of Peace’s jersey and reared back with a clichéd fist before they were separated. The real combo punch came from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, scoring 69 of OKC’s 114 points.

SATURDAY

NFL PLAYOFFS: AFC Divisional game: Baltimore at Denver, 1:30 p.m., Channel 2; NFC Divisional game: Green Bay at San Francisco, 5 p.m., Channel 11:
This really is a much different Packers’ team than the one that lost, 30-22, at Lambeau Field to the 49ers in Week 1. Aaron Rodgers’ main receiver has become Randall Cobb, and he’s handing the ball off now to DuJuan Harris and Ryan Grant – who weren’t even on the roster Dec. 1, let alone way back in September (when Cedric Benson had nine carries for 18 yards in the loss). The 49ers are a bit different, too, with Colin Kaepernick replacing Alex Smith (20 of 26 passing for 211 yards, 2 TDs and no picks in the win over the Packers).

NBA: Clippers vs. Orlando, Staples Center, 12:30 p.m., Prime:
You’ve got to get up pretty early on a Saturday afternoon to make the Clippers think they’re going to lose to a 12-21 team.

SUNDAY

NFL PLAYOFFS: NFC Divisional game: Seattle at Atlanta, 10 a.m., Channel 11; AFC Divisional game: Houston at New England, 1:30 p.m., Channel 2:
New England has a 42-14 win over Houston in Week 14 to reflect back on, a Monday nighter at Foxboro where Tom Brady threw for 296 yards and four TDs.

Victoria Azarenka holds up the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup after winning the 2012 Australian Open. (Ben Solomon/Tennis Australia)

TENNIS: Australian Open, opening rounds, 3:30 p.m., ESPN2:
Thirty minutes before she was to face Serena Williams in the semifinals of an Australian Open warmup event last week, defending Aussie Open champ Victoria Azarenka had to bow out with an injury – she had a minor procedure to fix by an ingrown nail that infected her right big toe. A problem apparently caused by a lousy pedicure. “You know, it’s just something that I had to do to make sure that I can be fully recovered and ready for Australian Open. It’s the compromise I had to take.” Azarenka expects to be fully fit when the year’s first major begins in Melbourne, climaxed by the women’s final on Saturday, Jan. 26 (airing Friday here), and the men’s final on Sunday, Jan. 27. The draws for each will be announced Thursday.

NBA: Lakers vs. Cleveland, Staples Center, 6:30 p.m., TWC SportsNet:
The Lakers’ embarassing 100-94 loss in Cleveland on Dec. 11 was considered the team’s low-point of the season at the time. That was long before Kobe started tweeting about how he lacked any self-doubt.

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