I need to start this week’s preview with another memo to college gymnastics to pull it together. Once again this weekend, everything in the world is happening at the exact same time. The #1, #2, #3, #4, #6, #8, #9, and #11 teams in the country are all competing simultaneously on Friday, including anticipated meets like Georgia/LSU and Auburn/Alabama, which is a big rivalry thing because the state of Alabama doesn’t have real pro sports, so this matters to people or something. How are we supposed to pay attention to all of it at once? Disaster.
In the rankings, Oklahoma has a pretty comfortable 0.3 lead on Florida and LSU entering the weekend and should be able to hang onto that #1 spot with a relatively sane, relatively hit meet. Farther down the rankings, we should see some shakeups. All the teams from #8 to #13 are ranked within 0.100 of each other, so this is an opportunity for UCLA, Georgia, and Stanford to restore some order. Or, throw their rankings away again with a billion falls. Either way.
During the barrage of meets at 8:00 ET on Friday, we’re all going to be faced with a completely appropriate use of the expression Sophie’s choice as we try to decide which meets to pay attention to. Oklahoma against Iowa State requires a school-specific subscription, so that’s right out, but otherwise, it’s a conundrum. Georgia/LSU is the biggest clash and probably the most likely to be competitive (though LSU does come in as the clear favorite), so that’s my main focus. Georgia has righted the ship with back-to-back high 196s, but it gets real now. Hitting is not enough. They have to be actually good, even on beam. To win, or at least keep it sufficiently entertaining, Georgia will have to be much closer to postseason form than they have been so far, particularly on bars.
Bars is the one event of the four where Georgia should be the stronger team. They haven’t shown that strength consistently yet this year, but if Davis, Rogers, Brown, and Jay all show up, that’s an intimidating brigade of 9.9s and the best opportunity for Georgia to pick up a lead. If they don’t get into the 49.4s on bars, it’s going to be colossally difficult for the Gymdogs to win without LSU mistakes. They’ll certainly need to build up a lead in the first half of the meet, and get the benefit of one of Brittany Rogers’ good vaults to mitigate some of LSU’s advantage there, because the Tigers have the much bigger and more consistent gymnastics on floor and will have a clear edge at the end.
I’m also interested to see what Auburn shows this weekend. The last two weekends at home, Auburn has started to debut flashes of the quality of gymnastics that makes me think they have a real shot at nationals this year, but away against Alabama is a different animal. Are they suddenly looking really 9.750 again? Or is it finally time for Caitlin Atkinson and Bri Guy to prove that they have the same talent as the Alabama anchors?
Fair warning now that I think Friday is the only live blogging I’ll be able to do this weekend, but Saturday is Big 10 day as usual. Expect Michigan and Nebraska to record comfortable wins. Getting that beam rotation in order and finding six hit routines will be the major focus for the Huskers (hint, hint Ashley Lambert). But Minnesota/Illinois could be an actual thing. Minnesota started the season abysmally, as could only be expected, but the 196s have started to drop as Lindsay Mable’s everything and Hanna Nordquist’s beam round into form. It’s still a partially formidable group, and if Illinois can’t pull together competitive vault and floor rotations that finally get out of the flat 9.725s, we could see the upset.
As much as I complain about the schedule, I do like that it’s mostly split up by conference. The SEC takes Friday, the Big 10 takes Saturday, and then the Pac-12 brings up the rear. It makes me feel organized and safe. In spite of the Price question mark, Stanford is gradually moving toward six actual competitive routines on each event, which shouldn’t be an accomplishment in February, but it is. The more Vaculik that’s happening, the better. For Cal, beam is becoming a real worry. They are legitimately competitive with the low 196 teams on three events and so exciting to watch in places, but if they can’t put together a hit beam rotation for even a high 48, then none of it really matters.
UCLA is in the Monday slot this week against a resurgent Washington. The Bruins looked thankfully OK last Sunday (99% because of Peng), but this time, hitting 18 floor passes without any landings that remind me of those bird things on people’s desks that drink the water, that would be nice. And bringing back the vaults from week 1 would be good too. But really, Peszek Calf-Gate 2015 is the main story. It’s painful how much weaker their rotations look without her. Be healthy, girl.
Top 25 Schedule
Friday, February 6
8:00 ET/5:00 PT –  Florida @  Arkansas
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – San Jose State @  Southern Utah
4:00 ET/1:00 PT –  Michigan State @  Penn State
5:00 ET/2:00 PT –  Minnesota @  Illinois
5:00 ET/2:00 PT –  Arizona @  Oregon State
7:00 ET/4:00 PT –  Michigan @ Maryland
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Iowa @  Nebraska