UCLA @  Utah
Saturday, 1:30pm MT, Pac-12 Network
Is this the most aggressive rivalry in NCAA now? I think it might be, at least as far as the internet is concerned. And of course, as we all know, arguments on the internet are always real and important and matter, so…
In somewhat more happening-in-real-life affairs—although is this real life?—the last time UCLA visited Utah, we were treated to the melodrama of the century. And I don’t mean Peng getting 9.825 for this beam routine. But also yes I do because I’m still cackling about it.
Really, I am referring to my most-favorite thing of all time, Flipping-Off-Gate 2017, which I certainly haven’t forgotten because lame drama about giving the finger is the kind of petty 90s middle school nonsense I’m all about. It thrills me to no end. Other sports are like, “Welp, someone got murdered in the parking lot again,” meanwhile college gymnastics is just one big episode of 7th Heaven. Specifically, this episode of 7th Heaven.
Also, how was that white feces even a show? And why did I watch it for, like, multiple seasons? Can we discuss that for 28 hours and do nothing else?
I really need Jessica Biel to come in and trash the gym after the UCLA/Utah meet.
Nice throw, basketball scholarship.
Anyway the meet. What were we talking about? Gymnastics? Who would ever? I’m eager to see these two teams in the same arena because while UCLA has been the stronger squad this year, having these two in front of the same judging panel at a Utah-favored venue should even things out a little bit and give us a closer contest than the half-point RQS advantage UCLA currently enjoys. I certainly don’t expect either team to run away with this one, and Utah in particular needs to keep this close to stem the narrative that it’s a three-team race this season.
The argument from teams like Utah and LSU this year has been that insane scoring for Oklahoma, UCLA, and Florida has created an artificially large ranking margin for those three teams that isn’t based on the actual gymnastics performed or scores earned, but more on judging bias. This meet is a significant test of that theory. If UCLA claims this one by a clear and healthy margin, even away at Utah, then that’s probably what we’re going to see for the rest of the year, even in postseason.
The key for UCLA in that quest will be getting clean hits from those 4th- and 5th-up big-money routines. That’s where UCLA’s most potent advantage lies. We know that UCLA will get a big anchor score from Ohashi or Ross or what have you, and we know Utah will get a big anchor score from Skinner (who has now taken to social media to sarcastically campaign for a vault 10 for herself, just like I’ve always dreamed). For those 4th- and 5th-up routines, however, Utah is more likely to get stuck in the 9.8 zone, especially on bars and beam, while we’re seeing 10s and near-10s in those same spots for UCLA. That’s where a margin is going to be built unless something drastic changes.
For Utah, the vault landings will be essential. That’s the only event where Utah ranks ahead of UCLA, and we’ve seen Utah deliver a lineup full of sticks and near-sticks in recent weeks for very competitive, nearly postseason-y totals. If UCLA is still in the land of hops and “what is the lineup and who is doing a 10.0 start?” then Utah should pick up some tenths because of vault.
For UCLA, stepping up the quality of the beam performances over what we’ve seen the last two weeks will be the most important progress point. Beam should be this team’s strongest score (you have Ohashi, Ross, Kocian, and Flatley—beam should basically never be below 49.5), but the lineup has been…shaky recently. They will need to crisp up those performances this week because the tenths are there to be gained on beam.
Utah has gone for the old “move the elegant veteran to the leadoff position” gambit on beam by switching Kari Lee to first up, a move you know I’m going to complain about because it might just mean sacrificing a 9.900 from the cleanest and best routine in Utah’s beam lineup (fight me), which they can’t really afford, especially with Reinstadtler having been limited to only bars. Utah’s lineup needs as many 9.9s as it can muster to try to prevent UCLA from running away with the meet exclusively because of beam dance elements.
 Georgia @  Florida
Friday, 7:00 ET, SEC Network
The scores, you guys. I can’t wait.
Florida’s season average is about a point higher than Georgia’s right now, and with Florida at home, we’re not necessarily looking at a close meet coming in. For this one to get dicey, something weird like a counting fall would probably need to happen. Instead, what’s most significant here is Georgia’s quest for a big away number.
None of Georgia’s road scores so far this year are what we would expect from a top-8 team at the end of the season (and one of them is quite low). Georgia’s first priority, then, is to get rid of that 195.300 so it’s not depressing the team’s ranking when RQS takes over on Monday. With any kind of hit or semi-hit, that will be no problem. But that’s just the minimum. Georgia’s peak road performance is currently 196.400, while teams like Auburn, Michigan, Minnesota, Kentucky, and Boise State all have much better road scores at this point. Georgia absolutely needs to use this opportunity of a potentially crack-filled Florida meet to get a road 197 and avoid being threatened in the quest for a top-2 regionals seeding once we get down to the last couple meets of the season.
Full hits on bars and beam. None of these 9.7s in the first two floor spots. That’s what it will take.
Friday & Saturday, 6:00 CT, Flogymnastics
So…what is this? Well, each year, the 10 gymnastics programs in the Big Ten conference split up into two groups of five to compete in what is essentially a qualifier for the conference championship—results here determine which four teams must compete in the early session of the conference championship (boo, low scores!) and which six teams get to compete in the later session of the conference championship (whee, high scores!)
Though that scoring classification is only theoretical. Last season, Nebraska bombed the Big Five meet—finishing 4th out of 5 in its group—and got relegated to the afternoon session at Big 10s but still managed a high 196 to finish second overall.
Previously, these meets were held at two separate venues the weekend before the conference championship. Now, they’re being held in mid-February, at a single venue, on podium, as part of an Elevate the Stage weekend extravaganza. Otherwise, it’s the same system.
Central Michigan: So, um, Central Michigan’s head coach Jerry Reighard was placed on administrative leave this week pending an internal conduct investigation. So that bodes well? Sadly, I don’t have any red-hot gossip or details to share with you on that.
It will have been an interesting week for CMU, heading into what is a critical competition on Friday against Bowling Green if CMU is to continue its season beyond the conference championship. Right now, CMU is already guaranteed to count a 195.275, not a particularly convincing score, and has no scores higher than that with just five meets left. Basically every remaining meet will need to average 195.5+ to get Central Michigan into a regionals position.
Boo snow: It’s a big weekend for George Washington and Kent State, two teams that we would typically expect to be in the mix for regionals positions. They’ll compete against each other twice this weekend—once on Friday and once on Sunday—as part of the makeup for a snow-canceled meet in January. The score situation is urgent for both, as they’ve both scored into the 195s only once so far. Kent State, in particular, doesn’t yet have enough meets for an RQS, but once it does, that RQS would still be very low because there’s also a 191 and a 192 hanging around. Time is of the essence. Lots of hit meets to do.
Big Ten: Iowa and Illinois did what they needed to last weekend by recording mid-195s. The situation looks a little better—they would both make regionals if the season ended today—but they’re not out of the woods yet. They both need to do that exact same thing four more times over the next five weekends to be safe. What we don’t really know is whether these Big Five meets are going to be all “juicy road score fun podium big teams are here 196s for everyone” or more “This is the Big Ten and we hate you 9.725 go die.” The answer to that is most significant for these two teams, even though the eyes will be on Michigan, Nebraska, and Minnesota.