Red alert. There are just three weeks left in the regular season. How does this always happen? The preseason is a million centuries long. Fortunately, in these last three weeks until conference championships, the meets are packing in an acceptable amount of value. Especially this Friday, with another juicy slate of SEC meets and an interloping Pac-12 match-up between Utah and Oregon State that’s particularly interesting as Oregon State tries to position itself for Regionals. As we move into this part of the season, the meets involving the teams ranked 11-14 become some of the most important as those teams try to claw over each other to avoid a bad Regional placement. 1/12/13 is the death Regional, the most likely Regional for a team to hit the meet and not advance, as Oregon State did—relatively—last year (196.525) and Auburn did the year before (196.700).
In the rankings, Oklahoma is set at #1 for another week, but LSU can get pretty close with a great showing. Oklahoma’s ranking lead has been very, very safe for a number of weeks, but they’ll have to start turning things up now to make sure it stays that way. LSU has a 196.600 road score to get rid of, so they should be able to remain out of the reach of Florida and Utah in the #2 spot with a hit meet. With a 196.725 still to be dropped, Utah is in a similarly solid position to jump up in RQS, but to do it, they have to prove they can get the road scores. They have just the one great road score so far (@ Arizona) and will need several more to challenge the big girls. It will be a little harder for Florida to move up, but they’re at home, so you never know. If the Gators get another one of those home 198s, they can shake things up if LSU and Utah are just OK tomorrow.
Alabama, Michigan, and Auburn are all at home and all unlikely to change their RQS significantly, but Auburn’s position is the most vulnerable right now. With three solid home scores already, Auburn will not be able to increase RQS too much even with a great meet. However the trailing teams—Nebraska, Georgia, and UCLA—all have sub-196 scores (sub-195 in the case of UCLA) that they’re itching to get rid of this weekend. All three have to potential to jump ahead of Auburn with regular, solid performances. The bottom half of the top 10 may be the area of greatest flux this weekend.
Friday’s action begins with Florida going after that massive home score against Kentucky, but the two most interesting meets of the day will be Georgia/Auburn and LSU/Alabama. Auburn has been getting the scores and zooming up the rankings the last few weeks, but are they really ready to jump into the top half of the SEC and unseat a perennial (the perennial) power? We’ll find out. As with all Georgia meets this year, beam and floor will be the deciders. While I favor Georgia on both vault and bars—if Georgia doesn’t have a healthy lead at the halfway point, it’s bad news—Auburn has been the stronger beam team over the last month. Megan Walker has quietly emerged as one of the best beamers in the country, and she has a family of supporting 9.875s behind her from Atkinson, Demers, and Guy. Beam is the event where they can pounce. Georgia has its own crop of exceptionally talented beam workers, but the wobble goblins are a bigger worry. Even during last week’s season high, they had one really great hit from Box (and solid work from Babalis), but it was not a confident or clean rotation overall.
But really, this meet for Georgia is all about the floor. They have to recover from that garbage rotation last week. If they don’t, none of the other apparatuses will matter. That Georgia floor is the rotation I’m most excited for this weekend. The time to work through problems has already run out. We’re going into March now, the month to perfect details, not learn how to hit.
Overlapping that meet will be the LSU/Alabama clash, which is more important for Alabama than it is for LSU. Sure, LSU would love to pick up a juicy score and put the pressure on Oklahoma in the rankings, but right now the Tigers are in a fairly comfortable position both numerically and qualitatively. Alabama has been making a lot of progress over the last couple weeks to get those competitive 197s. They’re up to a season-high ranking now, but they’re still on the outside of that top flight of teams. A win over LSU, coupled with a win over Florida earlier this year, would mean they should be in the title conversation, not just the Super Six conversation. Of course, both of those meets are at home (March 6th in Missouri should be a good opportunity to gauge how Alabama looks at a less enthusiastic, more conservatively judged road meet), but another win would still be significant. There’s also the matter of the home winning streak to deal with, and all.
The issue for Alabama in this meet is that, so far this season, the two teams have showed similar strengths with LSU just a tad better in each department. If Alabama is going to win in a hit meet from both teams, they’ll need to stick more vault landings than LSU (and more than they did in Georgia) and be more precise with the bars landings as well. LSU looked very nice on bars last week, but they were shuffling and stepping and twitching just ever so slightly. If Alabama brings those blamo Alabama bars sticks from years past, they may pick up ground. It would also help if LSU has one of those bad floor landings meets, but they seemed to exorcise that demon last week. Almost entirely.
As mentioned, a few of the Pac-12 teams have some important scores to get, not just Oregon State and UCLA, but Stanford as well. With few meets left, Stanford has some 195s they have to get rid of now. Price and Vaculik are working their way back at just the right time to help the team put together some real meets, which is very much the Stanford way of going about things. You don’t have to get 196s until March. Also keep an eye on Minnesota. They’re moving on up. They had a beamtastrophe in their most recent meet (and that event remains a worry), but they’re starting to put consistent 49 rotations together on the other piece. With even a regular lower-midish 196 this weekend, they can start to put pressure on Stanford, Oregon State and Penn State and make the 11-14 zone just that much more threatening.
Top 25 Schedule
Friday, February 27
9:00 ET/6:00 PT –  LSU @  Alabama
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – NC State @  Michigan
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – Iowa State, Penn, Brockport @  Penn State