We’re already here.
A month(ish) away from the start of our 2017 national nightmare. I mean dream. Beautiful dream. That means it’s time for my favorite part of the preseason, coming up with absolutely official, scientifically proven preseason rankings. Like all preseason rankings, mine are based on all the reality. Last season, I only went four-for-six (or as the kids call it, Mikulaking) on the eventual Super Six teams, so here’s hoping I can do even worse this year.
And to any and all coaches out there who haven’t yet turned in your coaches poll rankings and are feeling a little, “Ugh, I don’t know. I don’t want to” about the whole thing (and not setting a very good example of homework diligence…), you can just copy mine. They’re really, really good. You have my permission.
Oklahoma will be better this year than last year. That’s just the way it is. Challenge extended, KJ. Last year, I underestimated the Sooners’ ability to fill those gaps on bars and beam by coming up with random and unforeseen 9.9s, but they did it because obviously and of course. This year, I don’t see those same gaps. A defending champion that should get even better? An easy pick for #1.
Likewise, LSU is getting better in 2017. A team that looks more than capable of filling 850 lineup openings that don’t even exist, the Tigers have the ability to separate from the rest of the title-contending pack and will enter the season as favorites to win that elusive SEC title, but can they out-improve Oklahoma?
Honestly, teams 3-5 have been placed more or less randomly and could have gone in any order. While writing this, I had each one in each of the different positions.
Anyway, given the class Florida has lost from 2016, it’s easy to go full raspberry on the Gators’ chances this season, but I’m not buying that, hence the #3 placement. The quality of the freshman class, improved depth of realistic (and non-9.7) backup options on the power events, and smorgasbord of 10.0 vaults should keep Florida right in the championship conversation.
UCLA finished 5th last year—as strong a result as the team could possibly have expected, perhaps even stronger—so the Bruins have to go higher than 5th since they’ll be so much better this year, right? A team with Ross, Kocian, Ohashi, Lee, Hano, and company pretty much has no business not winning the championship. And yet, this is all just potential. The magic on this UCLA roster hasn’t proven anything yet and won’t be considered a legitimate force to win until we see some receipts.
The story of Alabama 2017 reads quite similarly to Alabama 2016, at least thus far. Before any words have been written. You know, that part of the book. Alabama is a deep and talented team with enough freshman and as-yet semi-dormant upperclassman to maintain last season’s identity as a team with more 9.875s than it knows what to do with. Fifth admittedly feels too low for a school that could win the title without it being a surprise at all, but someone has to be 5th.
It’s Utah. Utah is always around. They could lose every single member of every lineup (which more or less just happened) and still be in the mix for Super Six the next year. Because of all the lost routines, it will be difficult for Utah to improve too dramatically on last season (which should have been a Super Six year), but using Skinner, Reinstadtler, Tessen and the return of Lee to maintain Super Six potential seems a reasonable expectation.
The Wolverines’ disappointing performance at regionals last year undersold a team that had the quality to make Super Six and finish as high as fifth. Recall that Michigan counted a fall on beam and still came .050 from winning the regional. With enough key pieces of those 2016 lineups still intact, Michigan will be counted on to repeat last year’s quality and contend for Super Six again.
Cal outperformed all expectations (and got some massive help) to finish 7th at nationals last year. SEVENTH. That was a little high a little soon for a team that’s surely on the rise but maybe not quite that aggressive of a rise. Cool that slope. Still, Cal will be much deeper and stronger in 2017 than in 2016 (retaining all competition routines), so it’s reasonable to expect another nationals finish and improvement on that 10-12th ranking from last year’s regular season.
Having lost the massively important contributions from Jay, Rogers, and Box, Georgia in 2017 will not be heaped with the pressure of matching last year’s Super Six finish since the current roster does not display the same scoring potential as that 2016 squad. Still, there’s enough quality on the team that comfortably making nationals and at least challenging the Michigans and Utahs for Super Six will be a realistic aim.
Everyone always forgets about Nebraska because we rarely get to see meets, routines, or really anything at all. Yet, Nebraska returns a surprisingly hearty slate of gymnasts and has a sizeable enough group of newbies to keep Operation Mid-196 alive and well.
So much of Auburn’s emergence as a legitimate contender and run toward a top-6 ranking in the last two seasons was built upon Atkinson/Demers routines that we’ll no longer see in 2017. This is still a nationals team, but the “where are the 9.9s now?” question looms above them like a walrus made of whales.
12. Oregon State
Expect Oregon State to continue hanging around that “almost-maybe good enough for nationals” niche that has become its home the last couple seasons. Although, with the lost routines from 2016 being more emotional than numerical in their influence, there’s every reason to expect OSU to maintain/improve on last year’s level.
No Nina McGee would seem to indicate that the Denver bubble will burst this season, but I’m not so sure. This accomplished freshman class, led by Maddie Karr, should be able to replicate nearly all of the lost scores—except the floor 10s because NINA MCGEE—and keep Denver hovering around the same level as last season, which should have been a nationals year.
14. Boise State
The United Nations of Idaho, clearly spurred by that one coach who ranked them #1 last preseason, broke into the national conversation last year and seem poised this year to continue rattling around making trouble in the mid-196s with a legitimate shot at sneaking into nationals.
Stanford will obviously spend the entire regular season ranked 758th. We’ll see how things progress in the postseason, but the strains on the team’s depth—especially early in the season—will make it quite difficult to accrue the high scores necessary for a top-10 ranking. It’s Ebee and……….??????
Head Coach Elise Ray (does this mean we all have to be grownups now…?) will certainly miss Northey, but she does have a roster capable of breaking out of the “pretty bars and beam work that they just can’t put together” narrative that has followed Washington’s reemergence into the land of the 196s these last two years.
17. Southern Utah
Southern Utah has been pecking around the fringe of the top 20 for a while now, but this is the season. This year’s squad lost very few 2016 routines, has added some of the top JO finishers in the country, and is altogether and officially legit. The scores will come.
Like Washington, Arizona’s infusion of new routines should keep the team on the path toward weekly 196s as everyone tries to close the gap between the tiers of the Pac-12, though whether Arizona can ever break out of this same old ranking position remains to be seen.
Just when Arkansas was already losing a whole batch of multi-event seniors and couldn’t afford to lose any more routines, Paige Zaziski transfers, putting anvils of stress on this roster to come up with the non-Wellick scores necessary to challenge for nationals.
Kentucky has plateaued at this level, finishing between 21st and 25th each and every one of the past seven seasons. Well, it is consistency. Last season’s exciting freshman class may be an indicator that the engine is finally starting to run again, but we’re still waiting to see a team that can consistently break out of the high 195s.
Missouri’s results have been much more erratic than Kentucky’s, going from the high of making nationals in 2010 to the lows of the dismal 2013 and 2014 seasons, and now arriving at a very similar level to Kentucky, though having handed off the mantle of “exciting underclassmen!!!” to some degree.
It was mission accomplished for Minnesota last season, reaching nationals in the final year for Mable and Nordquist. As for 2017, it’s difficult to envision a repeat of that result without access to the undeniable power of The Mable.
23. George Washington
Everyone’s favorite unexpectedly good team has continued its rise up the rankings, and given that GW returns every single competition routine from last year, there’s no reason to foresee any regression this time around. In fact, we now have actual expectations. Top 25 isn’t a pipe dream.
24. Eastern Michigan
It’s important for us all to remember that Eastern Michigan came three tenths from making nationals last year. Nationals. Eastern Michigan. I’m pretty sure everyone remembers because the coaches and Rachel Slocum both got immediately poached by other schools. It’s tough to count on Eastern Michigan to repeat 2016 without those talismans, but if nothing else, EMU deserves a place in the top 25 as a reward for keeping last season interesting.
25. Bowling Green
I like to reserve the #25 spot for a “wouldn’t it be fun if…” school, but last year I went with George Washington in this spot and they finished 27th. So…not that far off. Maybe it’s not just fun and games after all. Bowling Green reached a major milestone by qualifying to regionals last year and should be better this year with a couple nationally noteworthy freshmen, so why not?