5:00 ET/2:00 PT – Nor Cal Classic ( Stanford,  Cal, UC Davis. Sacramento State @ San Jose State)
5:00 ET/2:00 PT –  Auburn @  Oregon State
As always, the full schedule is available at the link at the top. Note that Arkansas and Boise State will not be competing this weekend.
-Let the live blogging begin! I’ll be here from the start, though there aren’t any really enticing matchups on Friday (you’re not even trying…), so I’ll probably bop around from meet to meet, missing everything important. I do want to make sure to watch a fair chunk of Nebraska since we rarely get to see Nebraska during the season. Florida against TWU will be broadcast on Aunt Flogymnastics, so those of you watching it are required to provide updates of honesty in the comments. You have your mission.
-For Florida, this will be a very comfortable win, but as I mentioned in the preview, I’m looking forward to seeing the lineup strategy. I’ll also be interested to find out where Peyton Ernst is at this point, how Alicia Boren does in her debut given how important she is to the team this year, and how many 10s Bridget Sloan gets. Over/under?
-There’s a little less mystery about Utah because we saw them at the RRP and they diligently release their lineups a million days in advance. This too will be an easy-peasy meet, but we’ve got a lot of event debuts (Lee and Schwab on bars, Merrell and Partyka on beam and floor), which is always reason for a keen eye. Bars and floor are the most depleted since last season, so watch for stuck-at-9.825-itis, though that may be expected to some degree this early in the season. But, is there potential to go much higher?
-Speaking of depleted, Nebraska has a bunch of empty spots in these lineups, and depth will be a major storyline this season. I’m hoping to see as many different freshmen as possible competing to give the team more options than I currently think there are. Let’s not make this not a six-AAers kind of season since that is the most nerve-wracking thing in the world. Someone find the bubble wrap. I’m also interested to see how Arizona State fills out these lineups, as in, can they? There are almost four people on the roster this season, but might it be a little less depressing than last year? A little?
-Now that’s more like it. We’ve got two fairly huge meets on Saturday, which overlap because, once again, pull it together everyone.
-Georgia travels to Michigan to open the season, and this will be the first meet of the year that actually has an uncertain outcome. Michigan does enter as the favorite, however, competing at home and coming off an impressive first meet for a team that was in so many pieces so recently, but it’s not open and shut. As we know, the Wolverines are still not a deep team and will need the exact competitors they showed in Cancun to be competitive with the best teams in the country this year. But now, after the Cancun success, it’s 197 or bust. Anything less is a regression.
As of this point, Michigan’s strengths compared to Georgia look to be beam and floor given the troubles Georgia had on those events last season. The most important things the Gymdogs need to show in this first meet are a reborn, not-horrifying beam lineup (I’m hoping to see Cherrey and Jay and Schick among the new options to give this lineup some pop) and improved floor endurance versus this point last year. If they can prove those two events are under control, it will minimize any advantage Michigan might have in the second half of the meet. Georgia’s asset should be vault because of Jay and Rogers, though both teams are showing a solid number of 10.0 SVs. While bars will be very different for Georgia this season, for now at least the old story remains that Georgia needs a lead at the halfway point to have a chance. Please change the narrative, beam.
-The main event of the day, however, will be Oklahoma and LSU. Yikes. Showdown. I’m already excited. Nothing like starting the season by heading to LSU to test your mettle as the #1 team in the country. This should be an exceptionally high-quality meet, even in the first week of the season. LSU already looked in form at the preseason showcase, and Oklahoma always starts exceptionally prepared. I’m ready for both of these teams to hit 197 right off the bat, and I don’t think that’s a difficult accomplishment or expectation.
Depending on who LSU has available, these teams are pretty well-matched on vault and floor. LSU has the bigger routines 1-6, so give the Tigers perhaps a slight advantage but not enough to be decisive or conclusive as a prognosticator. It could go either way. The real challenge for LSU, this season and always, will be proving the equal of a team like Oklahoma on bars and beam. Oklahoma is going through its own little reinvention on those events, so checking how those lineups match up to those of the past couple seasons will be interesting. Still, bars and beam are Oklahoma’s events. It would be surprising to see any actual weakness there. LSU has a wildly, wildly talented crop of beam workers, but one that is unproven and without rock-solid lineup saviors. They’ll be thrown into the fire right away by having to keep pace with the storied Oklahoma beam, but that’s what it will take to win the meet.
-Sunday also brings its share of fun with a 5 ET/2 PT triple-header of serious meets. For reference, I’ll be back for day three of the live blogging weekend for Alabama/UCLA, so if you’re watching either of the others instead, keep the rest of us posted.
-Though UCLA is at home, which always helps, the Bruins are not exactly known for starting quickly or being at top form in January, so Alabama has more on the line as the team that really should win. Much is expected of Kiana Winston (by me), so we’ll have to see how she looks since her cameo last season doesn’t really count. Winston is especially significant with Lauren Beers coming off preseason surgery, meaning she may not be normal four-9.900s Lauren Beers right from the start.
The vault decisions will be fascinating. Alabama has a number of 1.5 options, but we’ll have to see how many of them come to fruition right away, while UCLA has some work to do to keep pace while lacking the same pedigree of huge vaults. Paging Pua Hall. For the Bruins, this meet is all about Ohashi watch. Without Peszek and with Peng limited, they need a star to step up, and Ohashi is the nominee. That’s particularly true in this meet because if UCLA is going to win, it will be with beam loveliness since I do expect Alabama to be farther along and show more difficulty on vault and floor. UCLA’s beam should be exceptionally fantastic this year (though Alabama’s will be no slouch), and it would be really disheartening to see one of those UCLA January three-fall meets in such an significant showdown.
-Last season, Stanford started with not enough people to compete, so the goal this time is…enough people to compete. I have no expectations for Stanford early in the season because we won’t see real Stanford until, oh, mid-March (that’s pretty true for UCLA too), but gauging depth of scores, at least six potential competitive scores on each event, will be the major factor here. A prepared and solid Cal will smell blood again this season.
-Auburn/Oregon State may feel like the ugly duckling of the day since so much attention will be on UCLA and Alabama, but that should be a pretty competitive meet itself. Auburn has multiple new routines to try out, so we’ll have to see if this group looks like one that might become a Super Six team again in a few months. Or is it going to be a case of Caitlin Atkinson and her interns like it was in 2014? To tally the upset, Oregon State must show who besides Maddie Gardiner is ready to compete with top-10 teams. It’s the old refrain: where are the 9.9s? Right now, Auburn looks to have more of them because of Atkinson, and while it doesn’t necessarily take 9.9s to win in January, the location of the 9.9s is a serious mystery the Beavs have to solve this season. It would be nice to see at least the larval stages of a few of them.