LSU @  Alabama
Friday, 8:00pm CT, SEC Network
Boy howdy. (I apologize. Don’t know why I said that. It’ll never happen again. Goodbye.) This meet comes at a perfect moment in the schedule as both teams try to grapple with and suppress the slowly creeping question, “Are they…still as good?”
For Alabama, that question began in earnest last season—culminating in missing Super Six for the first time in 10 years—and continued into the early meets this year, the opening 194 followed by a loss to Denver. As such, the victory over Georgia last week will have been life-giving. It showed that a ranking in the 9-10 zone doesn’t have to be the new normal for Alabama and that there’s every reason to continue considering Alabama for the role of #3 team in the conference. At the same time, that’s still just #3 in the conference (and not “among the top 3” as it used to be) and the score wasn’t a 197 despite being a looser-scored affair, which means Alabama will have to turn the dial up another couple notches on Friday to challenge an LSU team that has every expectation of going well into the 197s and enters as a comfortable favorite despite back-to-back losses.
For LSU, the team faced some distinct questions of its own entering the season, coming off that “bad for LSU” 4th-place finish at nationals and losing Macadaeg and Hambrick without obvious replacements for those scores coming in. While potentially minor concerns, they have been heightened by the early-meet performances, LSU starting with its first sub-197 score in nearly three years, followed by a loss to Auburn with its lowest team total since a January 2016 meet in Vegas when everyone fell on every event (and then Macadaeg got 9.950 on floor and you were like, “What…is this place?”)
Now, I don’t put last weekend’s meet against Florida in the same category as the loss to Auburn. Barely losing to Florida in January is not that big of a deal—a tenth the other way and it would be all, “LSU IS BACK”—and the final score was the 6th-best total of the season. But, it was still out of the (recent) ordinary to see LSU drop that meet at home in the final rotation rather than rising to the 9.950s to run away with it on floor. (Speaking of which, that floor lineup will be even more fascinating to watch this week). We’re going to wonder whether this team has the same chops as years past until LSU starts winning meets with high 197s, which is still expected of this roster and expected of this next meet. LSU puts up a 197.7 and wins the meet by a half point…no one would be surprised, and these concerns would quickly dissipate into the memory bank of January nonsense.
Alabama honestly wouldn’t mind that same result either. Of course, they’ll want to win at home against a semi-wounded LSU team that doesn’t have that same sense of invincibility, but breaking 197 and keeping it close? That’s a victory and a good progress point that would similarly help suppress “are they…still as good?” questions. To get there, Alabama will also hope this one is evaluated a little more charitably than those first two home meets.
 Oklahoma,  Denver,  Missouri,  Arkansas
Saturday, 7:15pm CT, FloGymnastics
Welcome, Texas recruits! The annual Metroplex challenge has garnered an excellent field this year, assembling four teams all of which should be in the hunt for those top-16 spots this season. If…everything…is any indication, Oklahoma shouldn’t have much trouble running away with this one—Maggie Nichols Watch 2019 probably being the most discussion-worthy part of Oklahoma’s situation heading in. Still, Oklahoma did count a fall on floor last week, and I’ll be interested to see who has been disqualified from the lineup for all eternity and who still gets a chance this week.
In fact, all four teams in this meet are coming off fall-counting performances last weekend and looking to recover so that those mistakes don’t start on the path to becoming things. (One fall-meet is a blip, two is a concern, three is a thing—SCIENCE.) Even Denver, which broke 196 last week at home, had three falls on beam and will enter this one with the dual aims of resolving that issue and of proving the near-197 pace from the other apparatuses is a real phenomenon for this team.
Missouri and Arkansas both went sub-195 (Arkansas sub-194) last week, coming to Metroplex on the hunt to recover their averages and also prove that they’re better than one another. In this unsettled second tier of the SEC, the teams could end up any which way, and that will have major implications for the seeding at regionals and who has a smoother path to the regional final.
Also worth watching is the scoring—as all the teams here will be hungry for crack-fueled road scores that can be fed off of well into RQS season. Metroplex has a reputation for crazy-high scores, one that was earned primarily during the 2014 edition when the judges gave out three 10s and three 9.975s back when that was really shocking and not just like…Tuesday. Crazy scores aren’t always the case, it depends on the panels, but the meet is known overall for being willing to drop the massive scores because SCREAMMSSSS.
I’ll be sure to live blog this for those of you who don’t want to pay for Flo access.
 Georgia @  Auburn
Friday, 6:30pm CT, SEC Network
The home/road dynamic is live in this one. Georgia has put up three usable scores at home so far—and one clunker on the road. It’s still very early in the season and Georgia has six road meets remaining, so there’s nothing urgent about getting a score right here right now, but Georgia does need to prove that this ranking of #6 isn’t built solely on charitable home scoring.
Georgia needs to show that the beam lineup won’t get stuck in the 9.7s when there’s less hesitation forgiveness, that the vaults have enough control for real-life 9.8s, that the beginning of the floor lineup…exists? Doing it in unfriendly confines makes it real.
Auburn’s 196.700 victory against LSU tells us that, at least at home, facing Auburn should be considered a dangerous prospect for any team. Replicating that performance would put Auburn in solid position for a win here (Georgia hasn’t gone 196.7 on the road in a while), but we’ve seen an Auburn team so far this season that’s all over the place. Even in the LSU win, beam was kind of terrifying, so imperative for Auburn in this one is putting together an even performance, one that lacks the event lapses of the meets so far.
- Friday’s action begins very early this week with BYU’s Kids Meet at 11:00am on a Friday. You know, when kids are available. Hey, no better way to set those attendance records like forcing your audience to be there because it’s a field trip. I do maintain that teacher chaperones on this field trip need to prepare these impressionable minds for the disturbing math sights they’re going to see, ones that might undermine their teaching. Perhaps make a “CAROL IS NOT A ROLE MODEL” lesson plan. (Subheading: 2 + 2 does not actually equal 8.)
- In Pac-12 action, expect the higher-ranked road teams to take most of these Saturday and Sunday meets. UCLA should be able to win at Stanford, Utah should be able to win at Arizona State, and Cal should be able to win at Arizona, but all three of those underdog teams produced impressive scores last weekend—Stanford and Arizona State breaking the 196 barrier and Arizona going mid-195. So watch out for whether those are real and can be maintained for a second week. For the most compelling meet of the bunch, though, I’d keep tabs on Oregon State and Washington, two teams that should be evenly matched and fighting for “first tier or second tier?” spots in the Pac-12 hierarchy. That’s a fun one.
- Kentucky heads to Florida to start the action on Friday (another early start this weekend) for a meet that is rather important for Kentucky, which is under-ranked thus far and needs some scores. Few better places to get that big road score than at Florida.
- If you want to check out a meet with teams outside the top 25 that you don’t watch a ton, I’d recommend George Washington’s visit to Pittsburgh on Saturday. Also, if you’re a fantasy gym player looking for future beam-worker trades, check on who might still be available from Pitt because most of that lineup has legit 9.850 ability. For George Washington, I’m very interested to see what those lineups look like this season following the mass exodus of that program-defining class. Of note, GW competes back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday this weekend, which is pretty unusual (typically in double-meet weekends teams will go Friday and Sunday) but is exactly what will have to happen on regionals weekend this year.
- Illinois and Nebraska should be a free-stream meet on Saturday, running simultaneously to Metroplex if you want something to watch and aren’t going to subscribe to Flo. Nebraska was without too many key routines last week for a 194, and Illinois had to count a 9.250 on vault to stay in the low 195s. So from a “what is going on here…?” perspective, that should be a good one.
- A 404 error in the URL of the live scores truly is peak college gymnastics. Methinks that one isn’t going to work.