The top 25 schedule looks like a rather paltry affair this week, but that’s mostly because it’s heavily incestuous with most of the top teams competing against each other. So, what we lose in quantity we should make up for in quality with a few legitimate marquee 50/50 meets. It’s worth getting excited about.
Top 25 schedule
Friday will be the usual, with special focus on Alabama/Florida since that’s kind of a massive meet. It doesn’t look like there will be live streaming of the Michigan/Nebraska meet, which is a shame, so we’ll just have to keep ourselves warm with SEC action and the cozy glow of Kathy Johnson’s sigh of dismay. I’ll then be back on Saturday to get sloppy with Metroplex, which should be the amazing, competitive, crack-smokingly-scored meet we’ve come to know and love.
-We’ve got some serious showdowns headlining Friday in which the results are actually up in the air (!), so let’s get into it. Alabama and Florida is always a worthwhile experience, but with both teams at a point in the season where they’re still showing flashes of brilliance mixed with flashes of vulnerability, the outcome will probably be determined by which team can minimize those pesky January errors we’ve been seeing rather than which team is the most brilliantly, spectacularly amazing.
If both teams do end up hitting to their capabilities, give to edge to Florida for having shown higher scoring potential so far this year and (primarily) for being at home. Still, these teams are both at a level when even counting a 9.700 would change the outcome, let alone counting a fall, so there’s no margin for the Gators.
All eyes will be on Alabama’s beam after the catastrophe last weekend to see if it becomes a Georgia or not. Theoretically, I do think Alabama’s beam is stronger than Florida’s 1-6 with more pristine form and potential 9.9s, but of course, hitting. Florida has been better at hitting beam than any other team so far this year. If Alabama is to take the meet, winning beam is absolutely essential, especially because Florida ends on floor at home, a scoring situation that may counteract any lineup advantage Alabama may have on the event.
-Simultaneous with this top-of-the-SEC showdown, there will be a top-of-the-Big-Ten showdown as Michigan visits Nebraska. Nebraska is slowly making strides from the disastrous first meet, with Blanske rounding into normal form, Sienna Crouse getting into some more lineups, and Schweihofer emerging as a valuable supporting player. That should make this meet more competitive than it may have seemed after, say, the first week. Still, Michigan will be expected to win and will be expected to get a 196.9, though the potential is certainly there to break 197 finally if it’s a good day for floor landings.
-Obviously, Georgia’s beam is a nightmare, so I’m sure we’re all eager to see that because whether it continues to be a train wreck or this is the week it pulls itself back together, it’s must-see acro-series TV. Weirdly, there’s a part of me that’s pretty optimistic about Georgia based on watching the team this season, in spite of all the 195s, because the other three events look seriously good and are improving. Once beam is worked out, and it will get worked out, Georgia will be legit.
-Another exceptionally competitive SEC showdown will be Auburn’s visit to Arkansas. These two teams look pretty evenly matched at this point, with Arkansas making an unexpected early run to challenge Auburn for the underdog SEC darling crown this season. It’s a tossup right now, though it’s critical that Auburn deal with the beam issues to come out with a win. Auburn should be a better bars and beam team than Arkansas, and while that has come to fruition on bars, Auburn has looked rather uncomfortable on beam and has not used the legitimate 9.900 potential of the Atkinson/Demers/Milliet trio to gain an advantage there.
Arkansas looks farther along and more prepared than Auburn through January, very fit and with a larger proportion of upperclassman competing compared to Auburn, still needing some time to bring the freshmen along. That preparation should give Arkansas an advantage on vault in spite of lacking the big 1.5 of an Atkinson. Arkansas’s vault landings have been more controlled, which has accounted for the stronger scores, so if this meet is decided by landings rather than mistakes, that favors Arkansas. Auburn, on the other hand, has higher scoring potential as a team and should be the better side come March/April, so if we see a progression from the last couple meets into something closer to mid-season form, Auburn will have an excellent shot at this one.
-The bigly big big bigness on Saturday is the Metroplex Challenge, the annual bacchanalia of valuable away scores pitting a bunch of competitive teams against each other. In the most likely outcome, it will boil down to Oklahoma and LSU fighting for the win. Stanford has extremely impressive routines, but still lacks the competitive lineups on vault and floor to beat the likes of the very best teams. This will actually be a valuable test case for Stanford looking ahead to the postseason to see how those vaults and floor routines will be scored in front of the same judges who have just seen Oklahoma and LSU. Competing against power, it’s easier to give those Stanford floor routines 9.700s. Missouri has also started the season with a program renaissance, which will continue for a couple seasons as this is a very young group, but will be viewing this meet as a chance for a usable road score rather than comparing themselves to top-10 teams. That’s true for Washington as well.
As for Oklahoma and LSU, how do we think this will go? The rematch. It seems pretty evenly poised, and while both teams have made strides to develop their traditionally weaker areas over the last few seasons, this one looks like it’s going to come down to the old standby strengths. Oklahoma’s bars and beam up against LSU’s vault and floor.
The Sooners have had to shake things up on bars a little bit this season, but they’ve put together a pretty and capable lineup able to remain competitive in the early spots and throw out some very big scores in the Wofford spots, where Wofford goes. That’s the biggest asset Oklahoma has compared to LSU since LSU will still have to count on some Gnat and Savona routines. As for beam, it’s Oklahoma beam, and in spite of some unexpected fallsies early on, this rotation should score exceptionally well. LSU has the capability and gorgeousness to compete with Oklahoma’s beam and score just as well, but we haven’t seen that develop as yet. They’ve had to play around with the lineup, they’ve looked a little tentative, and we’re all still waiting to see the 9.950-a-thon that a Macadaeg, Hambrick, Finnegan show, co-starring Gnat, Priessman, and Ewing can deliver.
Similarly, just going the other direction, both teams have tremendous vaults, but if LSU is continuing to stick those 10.0 SVs (and rest assured that Gnat will get a 10 every time she sticks her DTY), it’s going to be tough for any team to keep pace. Still, floor is really where LSU will look to win this one with bigness. The first meet between these two teams came down to floor, with the teams exactly tied based on the other three events. LSU went 9.9-city while Oklahoma counted some 9.8s and didn’t have enough of an advantage from the other events to make that OK. The Tigers need that to happen again, whereas Oklahoma needs to develop enough advantage on the other events to ensure the meet doesn’t come down to which team’s floor rotation is the biggest and loudest. Based on the action we’ve seen since these two teams squared off in the first meet, Oklahoma has looked steadier and has shown more improvement and therefore should level the season series with this one, though it will be a battle. LSU needs big beam, Oklahoma needs big floor. Who’s going to get it?
Monday? Come on. The Pac-12 is going to Monday, with Utah and UCLA both competing in meets they should win. Utah suffered a massive setback during the week with Kari Lee going down to a torn Achilles. The only silver lining there is that it happened early enough that they will be able to snatch a redshirt for her for this season should she want it, but it’s devastating to Utah’s scoring potential. While Lee hadn’t been her 2015 self so far this year (especially in the leg-event department, so perhaps now we’re all realizing what was wrong…), she was the integral AAer on this roster. Time to scrounge for routines, but those routines are not going to be 9.9s, which hurts on every event and seriously tests this team’s depth. Arizona showed impressive improvement against UCLA, with tremendous potential on bars and beam, and will look to pounce on a shaken Utah that has to throw some new routines.
Nothing much has changed for UCLA since the first meet, the strengths are still beam and floor and the weaknesses are still vault and bars. Bars has been the most variable performance so far, looking much more impressive in the second meet against Florida than in the other two, so the next few meets will be interesting to start to gauge which one is the real UCLA and which one isn’t. Cal has started the season predominately as expected, mid 195s, strong on vault and floor, weaker on bars and beam, especially beam. Toni-Ann has been the scoring leader and strongest gymnast on the roster once again, but she’s a little 9.850s compared to her 9.900s from last season, and they’re going to need her to be not just the best gymnast on the team but one of the best gymnasts in the country to try to make that leap to the nationals-challening sides.