GQ Invitational:  Utah,  LSU,  Missouri, Stanford
Friday, 6:15 CT, Flogymnastics
At the top of the playbill, the GymQuarters Mardi Gras Beads and Whatever Invitational brings us a comparison we almost never get in a non-postseason context—Utah against LSU. That comparison is becoming particularly relevant this season as Utah and LSU spend more and more time entrenched at #4 and #5, rankings that will be assigned to the same regional site in the new postseason seeding format.
While both #4 and #5 would be seeded to advance to nationals, one’s going to be the leader and the other’s going to be the old gazelle at the back of the pack, the one vulnerable to getting picked off by a surging underdog. We just don’t know which one is Utah and which one is LSU yet.
Because Utah has shown the more consistent performances thus far with those weekly 197 victories, winning this meet becomes more important for LSU—a team that has had its share of dramas and losses (admittedly with a more difficult schedule) and is coming off a quite lackluster performance against Kentucky. In addition to whatever sentimental hogwash and confidence concerns you might want to imbue the current situation with, pragmatically, LSU has fewer usable scores than Utah right now (only one worthwhile road total) and needs to take this opportunity of a road meet to get a mid-197.
At the same time, LSU’s desire for victory may be tempered by some difficult lineup decisions since this is a two-meet weekend. On the one hand, it’s preparation for the back-to-back days of regional competition. On the other hand, this roster has a number of fragile athletes you wouldn’t necessarily want to push on the leg events for a two-meet weekend right now. Do you hold them back in one meet or the other? Balancing the powerful desire to get confidence back right away by going all out and trying to beat a higher-ranked team like Utah with the patient knowledge that it’s still the regular season and you’re going to make regionals with a fine seeding regardless is a challenge.
Utah will have to manage some of the same lineup considerations for its two-meet weekend with Skinner and Tessen and Reinstadtler all having faced participation limitations in the early going, but will also want to bring out the fireworks for this one. This is the first real big-money meet of Utah’s season—a top-ranked opponent, a podium meet—and one that ushers in the far more difficult portion of Utah’s schedule. Monday’s meet against Stanford is Utah’s last remaining competition without a top-10 opponent. Other than that, it’s LSU and UCLA and Georgia and Michigan and Pac-12s. Difficult asks, but also serious opportunities to move out of that solid-but-not-nationals-level rut of lower 197s.
Missouri and Stanford are not to be ignored in this one, less for the possibility of a win and more for the opportunity of a score. Missouri has quietly built up a fairly solid slate of first-half totals with two road 196s already and can shore up what would almost be a complete set of scores with two more 196s during its LSU-themed weekend—but most significant of all in terms of postseason implications here may be the performance of Stanford (see Ranking Watch below).
 Florida @  Alabama
Friday, 7:30 CT, SEC Network
For dual meets, there will be little better than Florida’s visit to Alabama, an important competition for Florida in the quest to maintain its SEC record and top-3 status but a far more significant competition for an Alabama team that’s still floating in #9 purgatory.
We’ve got a long way to go and Alabama has a 194 to drop once RQS starts, but still, this ranking isn’t a totally unrealistic representation of what Alabama has shown so far, performances that have peaked out in the high 196s. Currently, Alabama is not ranked to advance to nationals, which is crazy. I know it’s a lot harder to make nationals now and we’re going to see many streaks broken in the coming seasons, but Alabama has advanced to nationals every year since 1983. Entertaining the possibility that Alabama might not make it this year is remarkable.
Nonetheless, a season-high score against Florida would suddenly make the situation look a lot safer and could see Alabama jump up ahead of the likes of Denver/Georgia/Michigan in the in-progress RQS rankings depending on how those teams perform. It’s the kind of meet for Alabama where a 197 is going to be a win, even if Florida closes in on a 198.
A loss of that margin would certainly not be satisfying for a team with Alabama’s history or expectations, but we’ve seen Florida outscoring Alabama by about a point each week lately, so that’s where we are. A full-point margin of victory translates into .05 per counting routine. When Trinity Thomas is going 9.950, Alabama’s equivalent routine from Gaskins is 9.900. When Amelia Hundley goes 9.875, Alabama has Klopfer going 9.825. That’s what we’ve seen so far in disparate competitions, so head-to-head, Alabama needs to prove that the reality is closer than that. Otherwise, it’s going to be a difficult slog to meet traditional Alabama expectations this year.
Cal @ Oregon State: Next to Utah and LSU, Sunday afternoon’s cherry on top of the weekend has potential to be the closest-matched meet of the bunch, pitting #12 and #14 against each other. Oregon State has the higher peak score this season, the 197.450 against UCLA, but Cal’s remaining scores have been stronger overall. Cal will expect that it can snatch the higher numbers on vault and bars, while Oregon State will look to use its strength on floor to run up the number there. If everything goes by hit-meet expectations, Cal would have the lead after three events with Oregon State surging at the end on home floor, which should make for an exciting contest.
Perfect 10 Challenge: The annual Did You Know Nadia Got a 10? Because She Got a 10. 10 10 10. Challenge—Oklahoma’s home away from home—will see Oklahoma welcome Washington, Arizona State, and George Washington to town. The main question for Oklahoma is…who’s OK? Is everyone OK? But other than that, the comparison between Washington and Arizona State, which have both been sort of hovering around the high 195s/low 196s should be interesting. Is either going to make a move to challenge OSU/Cal?
Kentucky @ Georgia: Kentucky is coming off an “OK, phew, we’re back” result in defeating LSU at home with a 197. With that, Kentucky will be bullish about its chances against this Georgia team that counted a fall on bars last weekend. If Kentucky keeps that quality going, we have a real meet here. Georgia, however, has been a different team at home and will hope to erase that bars performance from last weekend with a reshuffled lineup and another warm and cozy home score in the 197s.
Stanford: We’ve hit an exceptionally important stretch of days for Stanford. As is typical, Stanford doesn’t compete as many times as the other teams and therefore has just five meets remaining to alter its current RQS outlook. Two of those five meets come this Friday and Monday. The time is now.
|Road Score 1:||196.125|
|Road Score 2:||195.175|
|Road Score 3:||195.000|
|Home/Road Score 1:||195.475|
|Home/Road Score 2:||195.125|
|Home/Road Score 3:||194.650|
For reference, the RQS cutoff to advance in the top 36 last season was 195.750.
Now, for everyone except the top few teams, scores have been lower this season, so based on the current trend, expect the 2019 cutoff to be down from what it was in 2018. If I had to project right now, I’d say the regionals cutoff this year will be in the 195.3s or 195.4s. Even allowing for that, however, Stanford’s second-best score of 195.475 is still just sort of borderline, and the rest are too low. There’s no buffer left to accept mistakes in the remaining five meets.
Illinois @ Iowa: Saturday’s Big Ten meet has significant ranking implications for two teams that are absolutely expected to make regionals yet currently sit outside the top 36. With six meets left, Iowa has just one potentially usable score—a season-high 195.375 last week—but nothing else that would help in making regionals. Illinois does still have seven meets left but not really any regionals-level scores with a peak of 195.175 (and the season-ending injury to Rae Balthazor doesn’t help). The mid-195s have to start coming, starting immediately. This is an urgent meet.
DII: Division II squads Lindenwood and Bridgeport are not currently in qualifying position but are close enough that it’s not out of the question, especially if the more famous teams keep making a mess of things. Low 195s are very doable for the top DII schools. Bridgeport is off this week, but Lindenwood competes in the first session of the GQ Invite on Friday—another one of those road meets that’s really a home meet—and will be looking for the reflected-glow benefit of top 25 teams coming to town to snatch a repeat of last week’s 195.350. Right now, that looks like a regionals-competitive number.