Florida @  Oklahoma
Friday, 7:00 CT, Fox College Sports Pacific (real channel?)
Florida and Oklahoma—the most important meet of the season…until whatever’s next week. This is Oklahoma’s first true challenge of the now-teenage 2019 season, the first meet the Sooners enter where it’s a conceivable possibility that they might lose. Oklahoma is still the favorite, but we know Florida is capable of its own high 197 and did defeat Oklahoma in the 198-a-thon these two teams engaged in last year (albeit at home with Carol) (also, At Home with Carol is a YouTube series I need).
Based on what we’ve seen so far, this thing is most likely to hinge on vault. Though Oklahoma’s vault landings the last couple weeks have been a little more lunge-y than the team would hope moving forward, Oklahoma is capable of putting out 5-6 10.0 starts that will all score 9.850 and above right now, with the potential for a couple 9.950s. Meanwhile, vault has been Florida’s weakness through the first month of the season. A competitive number of 10.0 starts should be there for the Gators eventually, but a lack of control on the landings so far has Florida scoring in the 49.0s.
If that standard continues, Oklahoma will build up a four or five tenth lead exclusively because of vault, which would be very tough for Florida to make up on the other events. For its part, Florida will hope to get Nya Reed back in the lineup this week to lift that difficulty but will also have an interesting decision to make regarding Schoenherr, who has missed her 1.5 twice in three meets. Does Florida sub in one of its small army of Yfulls than can score a safe 9.800, or does it take the risk and continue going with Schoenherr? Of course, I say keep her in the lineup—Florida needs that vault to stay with a team like Oklahoma and will need that vault to be in form by the postseason—but if it seems like it’s going to be a fall…
If Florida can get 4-5 10.0 starts in there and step up those landings to keep vault within a tenth or two, the Gators will have a chance at the upset. That’s because Florida is one of the few teams capable of matching—or outscoring—Oklahoma on bars and beam. Both teams are going to be targeting 49.5s on those events and one lineup hasn’t looked clearly stronger than the other.
For Oklahoma, we’ll see if the occasion of Florida coming to town brings back Maggie Nichols on all four events. Nichols missed week 3 entirely and was limited to bars and beam in week 4 with a bruised heel, but she does seem to be inching her way back and it would be unsurprising to see Nichols on all the events tomorrow. As we learned from the meet she missed, Nichols’ presence is necessary for Oklahoma to reach its full 9.950iness on vault and to be six strong on floor.
Floor has emerged once again as Oklahoma’s weak point in the early part of the season, when Nichols and Showers were both out and some backups had to be tested. If both Nichols and Showers are back in the lineup for this meet, Oklahoma should have a solid six, but Florida will also be looking at that final rotation as a place where…hey you never know…just like it was against LSU.
Note: Contrary to my tweet of yesterday, I will indeed have a full live blog of this meet for those who cannot watch.
 Nebraska @  Michigan
Sunday, 2:00 ET, ESPN
ESPN’s now-annual Counterprogramming Day Special will feature Nebraska visiting Michigan for what has become a much more interesting clash following the events of last weekend. Suddenly, we saw Nebraska soaring into the 197s and outpacing Michigan by nearly a point, while Michigan had to deal with the injury to Maggie O’Hara and the absence of Emma McLean.
Neither of these teams is currently replete with 1500 backup routines, so the test in this one will largely be how competitive the 4th-, 5th-, and 6th-best gymnasts on each apparatus are compared to each other. Who is having to throw in that stop-gap 9.675 at the beginning of the lineup, or who is having to count that score because a star fell later on? That’s where I see this thing being decided because both teams have the big hitters at the ends of lineups. You’re going to see 9.9s from Wojcik and Karas, and you’re going see 9.9s from Houchin and Crouse.
Although, actually having those stars in the lineups is another potential twist here. McLean missed last week and Crouse and Schweihofer have been limited to non-AA performances for the last few meets, and every routine that one of those potential 9.9ers doesn’t compete is another routine that might have to become a 9.7 from a replacement athlete, increasing the potential that it might count.
In other news, it will fascinating to see what happens if Wojcik sticks vault again as the campaign to get her a 10.000 gains steam. If Wojcik sticks and doesn’t get a 10 again, there needs to be a camera ready on Bev immediately because it’s going to be a good one. Be ready: the judging panel at this meet will be sort of a mix of DIII judges and Carols, so it might get weird.
- Arkansas needs a score. Yet to break 196 so far this season and having counted beam falls in each of the last two meets, Arkansas finds itself under-ranked and in need of a recovery meet (as well as a beefy road score) as it visits Georgia in the early action on Friday. A tired-looking Georgia team has now had a full week since its last meet. Enough to lift floor up to the level of the other events?
- But can you do it on a rainy Friday night in Kentucky? Auburn has us all aflutter following 196.7s in home victories against LSU and Georgia, but the difference between a potential regionals spoiler and a legitimate top-10 team is the ability to record equivalent numbers at road meets, ones where a bottle of chardonnay isn’t judge #2 on bars. If Auburn is still 196.7ing away against Kentucky, the hype train will start pulling out of the station.
- The Pac-12 food chain is still unclear. We know that because Washington is currently #3 in the conference and Stanford is last, and yet Washington travels to Stanford on Friday night for a competition that could go any which way between two teams that have both been 48.9ing up a storm. Washington will look to get this thing on bars and beam, where Stanford has struggled so far, while Stanford has become the more powerful of the two on vault and floor and will expect higher scores there.
- Exploring depth road meet? UCLA will be the clear favorite when it visits Oregon State for Saturday morning cartoons this week. Still, the lineups decisions for the Bruins will be worth watching, especially as they work to clarify the vault lineup over the next month and sift out whose 10.0 starts are real and whose are not cutting it for competition purposes. Plus, UCLA’s second-half schedule is 3 home meets and 2 away meets against Utah and Oklahoma, not necessarily any competition where you want to be like, “We’ll rest Kocian and Kyla this week…” so that becomes a major consideration in these next couple road showings.
- A Cal comeback. Saturday evening’s tri-meet with BYU, Arizona State, and Cal should be among the most compelling meets of the weekend, pitting three teams all with similar rankings against each other. Still, it provides a statement opportunity for Cal. Cal is at home and, based on preseason expectations and roster strength, should win this meet and do so with at least a few tenths to spare. Following last weeks’ bars-rotation-from-hell, however, Cal is no longer ranked as the favorite and needs a bounce-back performance to reassert dominance over the teams in the teens like BYU and ASU.
- Don’t sleep on Alabama/Missouri either. Alabama should win, but Missouri is at home and has two 196s this season. That one isn’t over before it has started.