Last week, Florida used a six-tenth home victory over Oklahoma to leapfrog the Sooners into the top position and officially become the chased team. Because we have had a fair chunk of meets in the season now, it’s getting harder to move up several tenths in a single weekend, so the Gators should be safe in the first position for the moment as long as they continue doing what they’re doing with at least a low 197. Oklahoma would have to outscore them by .500 and LSU by .775 to jump into the first spot. The margin for LSU and Oklahoma is small enough that those two could end up in either order. The second pack is beginning to drop some of its more struggling members, but Utah, Georgia, and Michigan are all still close enough to overtake each other.
We’re into the second month of the season now, which means the margin for mistake forgiveness is going to become a little less cushy over the next few weeks. The “it’s only January” excuse for being ragged and/or on the ground is out of play, so if a team has been all manner of bouncy bounce on landings, or perhaps is still holding back on difficulty or still waiting to hit six for six on beam, that starts to become less acceptable now.
We have six of the top ten teams in action on Friday, beginning with Florida, who will go back on the road to face Kentucky. I’ll check in on that, but I’ve seen quite a bit of Florida so far this season, so I also want to spend at least a little quality time with Michigan, a team that has been consistently strong so far this year and should be in 197 contention each week. They got two 9.975s last week and look to be rounding into strong form to challenge for a top five spot.
Of course, the big meet on Friday is Georgia visiting Alabama, which should be fascinating as always. It doesn’t have the same bite as in the Suzanne v. Sarah years, but it’s still a treat gymnastically.
Based on overall quality shown so far this season, the meet should be a toss-up. Except, it’s Alabama at home. It’s been what, 1150 years since they lost at home? Breaking the meet down by event, Georgia is the stronger team on bars, but while Georgia has scored the bigger number on beam so far this year, I trust Alabama’s beam lineup more and think they will have the edge there.
Then, things get really interesting on vault and floor. Alabama is the higher-ranked team on vault as we would expect from Alabama, but Georgia may have the consistently bigger scorers at the end of the lineup this year. The Tide will need Beers, DeMeo, and Clark to get those landings to help Milliner keep them ahead of what Rogers, Jay, and Cheek can do. That could be a fun battle and will define the meet early on. I wouldn’t be surprised by a Georgia lead at halfway, but an Alabama lead should mean a smooth rest of the evening.
And then there’s floor. Neither team has been out-of-this-world so far on floor, and neither is currently ranked in the top ten in the country. On paper, Alabama should have the hugest advantage of all on floor, but that hasn’t been the case so far this year. It will need to be the case on Friday for Alabama to have a comfortable journey. Milliner needs to be back in form, and these 9.800s need to disappear. The event to watch is all of them.
In the late action, Utah hosts Arizona in a meet the Utes should win comfortably if they keep riding Corrie Lothrop’s beam solidity, but Arizona could make a nice case for being the team to finally break up the Pac-12 Big Four with another strong score here.
There’s also some nice, fancy action for the rest of the weekend featuring Nebraska, Auburn, Stanford, and Oregon State if you’re not too distracted by the Olympics and your inevitable attempt and failure to use your gymnastics knowledge to evaluate the snowboard flipping events even though you know nothing about snowboarding and start getting angry with Phoebe Mills for not deducting for body position on these landings. Early on Saturday, UCLA hosts Arizona State, and for all the talk of beam, vault has been blahsville the last two weeks on the road for UCLA, so the Bruins need to get that event in order as well against a Sun Devils team that has been sniffing around 196.000 early in the season this year in a vast improvement over recent 194ish opening months.
Don’t overlook Oklahoma and LSU on Sunday, which will be easy to do since it’s another of those Oklahoma meets shown on the Fox Sports Middle North Southeast Network. Depending on what LSU does on Friday, this Sunday meet could be a fight for #2, so we should all follow the scores if nothing else and play “Count the 9.9s” because there will be a lot of them.
Top 25 Schedule
Friday, February 7th
7:00 ET/4:00 PT –  Florida @ Kentucky
7:00 ET/4:00 PT –  Minnesota @  Ohio State
7:00 ET/4:00 PT –  Central Michigan @ Eastern Michigan
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Northern Illinois @  Kent State
8:00 ET/5:00 PT –  LSU @  Arkansas
8:00 ET/5:00 PT –  Michigan @  Illinois
8:30 ET/5:30 PT –  Georgia @  Alabama
8:30 ET/5:30 PT – Chicago Style –  Boise State, North Carolina, Illinois-Chicago, Bowling Green
9:00 ET/6:00 PT –  Arizona @  Utah
Saturday, February 8th
3:30 ET/12:30 PT –  Arizona State @  UCLA
4:00 ET/1:00 PT –  Nebraska @  Penn State
7:00 ET/4:00 PT –  Auburn @ Air Force
7:00 ET/4:00 PT –  Stanford @  Washington
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – NC State, Southern Utah @  Denver
9:00 ET/6:00 PT –  Cal @  Oregon State
Sunday, February 9th
2:00 ET/11:00 PT –  Central Michigan @ Bowling Green
2:45 ET/11:45 PT –  LSU @  Oklahoma