Get ready because Friday is a big one. All the top 4 teams, and 6 of the top 8 teams, will be in action at the exact same time. I’m already tired about it. I mean excited. But I really mean tired.
Oklahoma and Florida enter the weekend tied for the top spot in the nation after Florida recorded a national high of 197.200 last weekend while Oklahoma’s first week lead dissipated during an uncharacteristically 9.4 beam rotation. Neither team seems more likely than the other to grab the #1 ranking after this weekend, and LSU, Michigan, and Utah are all within striking distance if things happen to go south for both of them.
Even though everything in the world is happening at once (not an exaggeration), the big grudge matches on Friday will be UCLA/Utah and Florida/Alabama, and for both of those meets, I’m just not pretending they could go either way to make it more interesting for myself. They really could. Here’s my plan: Rather than having 18 panic attacks while trying to watch every routine from both of these meets at the same time like I’m a malfunctioning robot, I’m going to blog about UCLA/Utah as it’s live, and record Florida/Alabama and then watch and write about it after UCLA/Utah. Deal? Deal.
First, Utah/UCLA. As is always the case when UCLA and Utah square off at the beginning of the season like this, Utah comes in looking like the steadier team. The Utes have two hits meets in two weeks under their belt, while UCLA has those four falls from Monday under their belt. The key to a Utah victory will be exactly that. Stay steady, hit those routines, be the more consistent team, and let Dabritz do her thing. Utah, however, is still vulnerable to 9.825itis, so they’re going to need stronger supporting scores than they’ve been getting so far to defeat a hit meet from UCLA.
The most important rotation for the Bruins will be beam. UCLA should be phenomenal on that event, which we saw flashes of on Monday, and if they hit beam to their capabilities, they can open up a major lead on Utah solely with that apparatus. Of course, hitting beam like beasts doesn’t amount to much when you’re counting a fall on floor and botching dismounts. Hint hint. There’s no reason for that to be happening. Maybe they can use the inspiration of Katelyn Ohashi’s commitment to get through the whole three passes this week.
As for Alabama, this is a pressure meet. It was always going to be a pressure meet because they have not lost in Tuscaloosa since that infamous February 2009 clash with LSU, but this new-look Alabama team is the underdog against the reigning co-champion. That pressure is only compounded after last weekend’s shock loss and beam implosion against Arkansas. Is it bad that I kind of can’t wait for Alabama’s beam rotation tomorrow? All eyes will be on that. I know it’s only January, but it’s an important rotation. Hit, and they basically erase the Arkansas disaster. Miss, and their beam rotation is a thing. No one wants their beam to be a thing. The only step after thing is full-on balance beam situation. The horror.
Florida comes in having proven that they’ll be fine without Bridget Sloan for the next month and a half or so. Of course, they would be better with her, but they have the backup routines to be competitive. But, there are still some lineups to work out. I’m not sold on all the replacements yet, and there were some areas last weekend where they looked fairly vulnerable, another fall on beam, counting a 9.700 on floor. Let’s see how the lineups shake out this time in a big clash. Coaches always talk about how they don’t pay attention to their opponents, which is true because they don’t have to (and is also why having a coaches poll in gymnastics is bizarre), but no one likes to lose. Except for SEC teams according to Courtney Kupets. Grudge matches like Florida/Alabama and UCLA/Utah are when we see the real lineups come out to play, so I’m very interested in who’s in and who’s out when it really comes down to it for all these teams.
This is the OK one, not the bad one.
On Saturday, Georgia is hosting Kentucky, and if you thought Alabama had a beam implosion last weekend, may I direct your attention to Monday’s Georgia performance, which was a 47.400 and historically disastrous. Everyone struggled. 9.5s were the good scores. As Alabama must come back and erase that memory this weekend, so must Georgia. Those beam and floor lineups need to get together and say, “Who’s in charge here?” and it needs to be someone.
On Sunday, Michigan will host Illinois in a Big 10 clash. Michigan is pretty much always and forever the favorite in this meet, and that’s reinforced by their strong start to the season. The Wolverines have cleared the first hurdle, proving that they have full lineups of competitive routines (and as long as no one gets hurt, they have them). Now, it’s on to phase 2, how many 9.9s do you have? We know there’s Nicole Artz’s floor and Sachi Sugiyama’s vault, but who else can get that kind of score consistently each week? Illinois also comes in looking good after breaking the 196 barrier at home last weekend, with Sunny Kato nailing it on bars and beam for 9.9s, but to score the upset, they’re probably going to need real help or a magic wand to get rid of those early-lineup 9.725s.
Oregon State against Stanford on Monday should be very competitive. It’s another that could go either way. Stanford has the bigger possible scores. There are many more 9.9s on Stanford than on Oregon State, but they have not proven that they have full lineups of hit routines yet. Half of their rotations have been sub-49 this season, and they are still barely cobbling together six people and throwing out some gymnasts who probably shouldn’t be back in lineups yet. Oregon State hasn’t had any of those same implosions or major fall-counting rotations yet, but they’re also more likely to get stuck in the 9.800s. They don’t have an Ebee Price to show up and get a 9.950.
But in the most important news of the weekend, I forgot to update my fantasy lineup this week, which is terrible. I fear I’m going to be leaving some scores on the table this time.
Here is the weekend’s schedule for the top 25 teams. As always, the full schedule can be found at the link at the top.
Top 25 Schedule
Friday – 1/23/15
8:00 ET/5:00 PT –  UCLA @  Utah
9:00 ET/6:00 PT –  Southern Utah @ Boise State
Saturday – 1/24/15
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – Minnesota @  Michigan State
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – Iowa @  Ohio State
Sunday – 1/25/15
4:00 ET/1:00 PT –  Illinois @  Michigan
5:00 ET/2:00 PT –  Denver, Arizona State, San Jose State @  Cal
Monday – 1/26/15
9:00 ET/6:00 PT –  Oregon State @  Stanford