Florida @  LSU
Friday, 8:00 CT, SEC Network
Oooooh boy. It’s a big one. Am I going to try to pick a winner? Of course not. That would be insane. It’s Florida and LSU. They’re both good, if you haven’t heard, and all outcomes are very believable, including the one where D-D transforms into a tiger and ascends to the spirit realm to become one of the Sages of Time after beam, and the meet is immediately canceled.
But before that happens, there are several compelling and unusual dynamics going on in this one worth picking apart—vault and floor chief among them. Typically the go-to events and safely gigantic scores for powerhouse teams, vault and floor are providing the bigger struggles and more pressing question marks at this early juncture. They’re basically the beam of this meet, and the team that’s better able to say, “we’ve got those events figured out now” will win. (He says, right before the meet is obviously decided based on beam.)
And then there are the stakes. It’s only January, but coming directly on the heels of a loss to Auburn, LSU will be especially prickly about even entertaining the possibility of losing to Florida as well.
So let’s call this LSU’s “over my dead body” meet, which presumably means the team will want to pull out its very best lineups. The question: what does that mean at this point, especially with regard to that still-turbid floor squad? Kelley’s ankle problem from last week is not too serious, but is pushing back quickly for a January meet worth it? Same goes for if LSU is willing to go full Priessman already. Desiderio fell in week 1 and did not do floor in week 2. Ferrer looked like she needed more time in her week 2 debut. That’s a lot to work out in a floor lineup that can’t be just 9.850y-rudis against a team like Florida. You have to think LSU needs to be the better floor team to win this thing. As for Florida, the floor lineup scored well for the most part in its opener, though with 80 million options, I wouldn’t classify that lineup as looking anywhere near settled either. I want to see some different options, but that can be a tricky prospect.
In many ways, LSU and Florida mirrored each other in their first-meet performances, putting up three solid events but struggling to open the competition on vault with some very January (December?) Y1.5s that took the score under 49. LSU stuck to its lineup in the second meet and got hits from Harrold and Edwards—they’ll still want more than low 9.8s from those vaults, but it was progress—and Florida will be faced with exactly the same challenge this week.
The Gators absolutely need 1.5s like Schoenherr’s, but after the landings last week, will going safe be the chief priority to avoid giving the meet away, or is the priority a trial by fire to ensure preparedness for when the meets actually matter? You know my answer. (Always fire.)
 Alabama @  Georgia
Friday, 7:30 ET, SEC Network
It may not have the “this will decide the best team in the country” oomph this dual brought with it back in the day, but this year’s Alabama/Georgia clash has its own, different level of deliciousness as both teams battle not to get caught by the pack. Auburn and Missouri outscored both of them last week (as did BYU, Boise State, and Denver), and Alabama and Georgia’s presumptive top-tier status has come under attack early on.
Alabama made progress by breaking the 196 mark last week but will still be glad to leave behind the scoring of those two home quad meets, going out onto the road for a competition no one expects to be conservatively judged. It’s only week 3, so nothing matters yet in the scores, but Alabama has just three home meets remaining and no big, juicy scores to lean on yet. That puts a little more pressure on getting those big, juicy scores out of road meets as we go.
In particular, Alabama needs to hit a quick-rhythm beam rotation that actually gets out of the 9.7s. This team should not be scoring 9.7s on beam at any point in the rotation, and beam has no business being a weakness compared to Georgia. Georgia is probably the better bars team, the vaulting is very similar, and Georgia has home floor, so if we’re pinpointing events where Alabama needs to establish superiority, beam is essential.
Georgia hasn’t won its dual meet against Alabama since 2013, and for the first time in a loooonnng time, Georgia has a solid argument for entering this meet as the favorite. That said, we still need to determine which Georgia is the real Georgia. The season started out well in that opener, then got reee-ough in the second meet, meaning this competition provides a sort of “best 2 out of 3, which one is actually you?” opportunity.
I’m very willing to chalk up the counting bars fall from last week as a fluke—it’s like a cough, where did it come from?—because someone like Snead probably isn’t going to fall again on bars all season (and with Megan Roberts expected to come in this week, the lineup gets a boost), but beam and floor do still seem very ragged and very January. “I got a 9.6 because I’m still figuring things out” isn’t going to fly against Alabama.
- In general thoughts, I am gravely concerned about the potential state of the floor judging this weekend. Gretchen, stop trying to make viral 10 happen. It’s not going to happen. Judges, remember, your job is to make everyone unhappy. And it is a noble pursuit.
- Arkansas vs. Kentucky provides the first meet of Friday’s three-meet SEC slate, and it too is worth your time. Neither team has gone 196 in the first two weeks, which has seen them fall a hair off the conference pace, so both will be eager to accomplish that 196 in this one. There’s so much similarity among the challenging teams in the SEC that this meet should help sift out where some of these schools actually stand in that hierarchy. Because right now, it’s Florida and LSU and then who even knows?
- Similar is true for Auburn and Missouri, meeting on Saturday. Auburn owns the big result among those challenging teams with 196.700 in beating LSU, but it will be incumbent upon Auburn this week to prove that wasn’t just the function of a charitable home environment or an outlier great day.
- Blue Michigan hosts Green Michigan on Friday, a meet more compelling for “school rivalry things” or whatever than the gymnastics result, but it’s also Michigan’s Sensory Friendly meet, which I love that they do. What if Rhonda was just there in the front row like, “Hello…”
- Georgia will have a two-meet weekend, following up the Alabama meet with its traditional MLK Monday competition, hosting Iowa State. This may provide an interesting glimpse into depth options (i.e., whether they exist) should Georgia decided to rest some people for the second meet. At the same time, with the intense postseason schedule now demanding multi-meet weekends at both regionals and nationals, I could also see teams making a point of putting out the same lineups throughout a two-meet weekend to have the athletes feel what it’s like to go twice back-to-back. Iowa, the kind of team that may also need to prepare for that play-in meet, competed twice last weekend with very similar lineups.
- UCLA competes Monday against Arizona State, and presumably it’s goodbye to any rest weeks for Katelyn Ohashi for the remainder of the season now that she’s the show. (Sincerest apologies, of course Miss Val is always the show, but now that Ohashi is the other show.) How that floor routine gets evaluated this week will be fascinating. Is she still eligible for deductions, or are we just like nah?
- The Pac-12 schedule also starts in earnest this weekend with Utah visiting Oregon State on Saturday. I’m very interested to see Oregon State’s full slate of routines because we saw some encouragingly competitive glimpses in the first meet (i.e., Isis Lowery as a legit three-eventer) but also some super low scores on routines we didn’t see. Hopefully this meet will answer the question, what was going on with that?
- Cal and Stanford complete the action on Monday night with their rivalry showdown. Unfortunately, it’s looking like Stanford Bars Terror is going to be a thing for another season if the first two meets are an indication, part of what makes Cal the favorite heading into this one. Of note, however, Stanford is currently ranked better than Cal on beam and floor.