UCLA @  Oklahoma
Sunday, 12:00 CT, ESPN
It’s the big one. Of all the meets until the national championship, this one will give us the best indication of how things will go down when it actually matters. These two went 1-2 last year, and we’ve been given no reason as yet to think it will be different this year, especially with an improved UCLA side over 2018 and in Miss Val’s last season.
Foremost among the determining factors in this meet will be the Oklahoma health situation. The absences of Maggie Nichols and Bre Showers last weekend against West Virginia very much showed in the strain they put on lineups, several of which struggled to fill out six competitive scores. If the team that competed against WVU shows up again, it will lose to UCLA. That said, Nichols has been popping in and out of lineups, and you’d have to imagine that unless something goes awry, this will be an in meet. And this Oklahoma team, with Nichols in lineups, will always expect to go 198.
Eyes on floor. Floor has not been particularly deep for Oklahoma this season, and that’s something UCLA will look to take advantage of, especially if Nichols isn’t ready to get back in the lineup there. For the last month or so, Oklahoma has had just the four reliable floor scores, which has seen the team fall to (gasp) #3 in the country on the event, behind both UCLA and Florida. To pull out the upset road win, UCLA will absolutely be looking for the higher score on floor.
In fact, despite Oklahoma’s higher overall ranking, UCLA is ahead of OU on three events—bars, beam, and floor. That’s somewhat misleading as it’s difficult to construct the scenario between these two teams on bars and beam as anything other than a wash. The handstands and balance checks on any given day. The question I do have on those pieces regards the middle of UCLA’s bars lineup, which can get a little 9.750-9.800, and Oklahoma will look to outpace those numbers to create a buffer. In this one, a score in the 9.7s might as well be in the 9.2s. Disaster either way. Speaking of which, the scoring. You guys. Is there any chance we don’t have to jump into a boiling-hot geyser about the scores at the end of this meet? I’m thinking no.
The reason Oklahoma maintains a higher overall ranking than UCLA is vault, where Oklahoma has used its complete lineup of 1.5s to outpace the entire rest of the county. It’s hard to see UCLA’s lineup—which lately has been made up of three 10.0s and three fulls—matching Oklahoma’s score there. The best indicator for an Oklahoma victory will be running up that margin early with something like a three-tenth vault advantage. That kind of margin on a single event would be exceptionally difficult to overcome because these teams are so closely matched.
 Michigan @  Utah
Saturday, 2:00 MT, Pac-12 Network
UCLA against Oklahoma is not the only fascinating little morsel on the docket this weekend. We have one every day, and Saturday’s entry is another closely matched dual meet between Michigan and Utah.
This year, Utah has shown the more consistent season, and coming off a season-high score, and being at home on senior day for Lee and MMG, yada yada yada, you expect the Utes to take this. But. Michigan has snatched 197s of its own each of the last three weeks with an average score higher than Utah’s average over the same period. Plus, Michigan’s 197.750 from last weekend’s podium competition is the highest score for either team so far this season. Michigan comes to Utah on fire, and despite the disparity in rankings, should largely be able to match Utah routine for routine.
That’s especially true if Michigan can perform on bars the way it did last weekend, where the strength in those dismounts would eliminate a potential area of advantage for Utah. Utah will nonetheless look to floor for its most compelling edge, where the early- and mid-lineup routines should outscore what Michigan is able to produce. Though to truly grasp that advantage, Utah needs Skinner in the lineup. Skinner has been sort of alternating weeks on floor lately and already competed last Saturday, but Utah is also off next weekend, which will factor in.
On vault, you’d probably give the slight edge to Utah, though both teams have big-money routines at the end of the lineup that match up pretty similarly. It’s the quality of the first-half fulls that leans toward Utah. The storyline of the Skinner vault score versus the Wojcik vault score will be worth watching.
For its part, Michigan will look to—you guessed it—beam for a chance. Utah put up a solid beam rotation against UCLA, a mark of progress, but those beam routines from Funk, Karas, and Wojcik are highlight-reel stuff for Michigan that could swing things, or at least allow Michigan the chance to hang onto a lead in the final rotation, even against Utah’s home floor. You don’t really see Utah giving up a lead after three.
 Georgia @  LSU
Friday, 8:00 CT, ESPN2
Before the season started, this meet might have been chalked up in that “interesting but inevitable” category, two good teams facing each other with the presences of Suzanne and DD in the same arena keeping things spicy, but with LSU as the obvious favorite. Now, maybe not so obvious. We have seen LSU’s armor wear thinner this season with three conference losses, while Georgia is coming off a road upset over Florida. LSU remains the favorite, with the higher scoring ceiling, but a victory by Georgia would no longer be considered shocking given what we’ve seen play out this year.
We now have a Georgia team that can match LSU’s vault SVs—though like Utah, I give LSU the vault edge because of superior fulls—and we have a Georgia team that can be excellent on bars despite still being ranked quite low there. I will maintain to the grave that bars is Georgia’s best event this season. A hit day from Georgia on those early pieces shouldn’t really give up too much ground to LSU, keeping Georgia in contention to pounce on a miss or semi-miss, just like it did against Florida.
It’s still going to be tough for Georgia. Even while dealing with some lineup limitations, LSU has the stronger floor group—and no one expects a judge to go 9.650 for Kelley in the anchor position again this week at home because DD will just stab her with a tiger brooch filled with elephant tranquilizers that you know she carries around for emergencies. Finishing the meet on floor against a Georgia beam lineup that has had its unconvincing moments this season—even for high scores—is advantage LSU. Georgia will need to have developed a multi-tenth advantage before that to have a shot. But where? Something will have to give on an early event.
The epic Alabama/Auburn rivalry may get overshadowed in a busy weekend, but we’ve got some seriously compelling implications swirling around in this one. Currently, Alabama sits at a respectable ranking of 8th but is in danger of falling behind both Michigan and Kentucky this weekend since both teams have higher possible RQSs. The quest for a 197 is becoming increasingly urgent and the possibility that Alabama could fall out of the top 10 soon is real. This meet is Alabama’s home finale, but since home scoring has not been particularly kind to Alabama so far this season, you wonder if the best chances for big scores will come in subsequent road meets—one on podium, one at Oklahoma, and one at SECs.
Auburn, while not quite able to catch Alabama this week even with a big result, still has a road 195 to drop from its RQS slate and can get into the conversation for the evening session at SECs with a high 196 or a 197 here. Right now, Florida, LSU, and Georgia are looking pretty solid for those evening spots, and then it’s a fight with Alabama, Kentucky, and Auburn for the remaining place.
Boise State hosts Washington and Utah State for a tri-meet this weekend that has just taken a turn with the news that Shani Remme did in fact tear her ACL last weekend. This meet, then, will be a test of Boise State’s new scoring potential and postseason expectations, also providing a useful comparison against a Washington team that’s only a few spots back in the rankings. Does this mean Washington is stronger than Boise State now?
The battle for the top 16: This season, finishing in the top 16 is critical because it ensures a seeded place at regionals and avoiding geographical placement as an underdog into a who-knows-how-difficult regional group. This week, the current 16-19 teams (Missouri, Washington, Nebraska, and BYU) will all be grappling to get the scores needed to get up to that #16 spot. Despite currently being behind the other three, BYU’s peak total is the highest of the four teams with a low road 194 still to drop.
Nebraska is starting to run out of opportunities with four meets left and three 195s to get rid of. Saturday’s meet against Southern Utah, then, has numerous ranking implications for both teams because SUU currently doesn’t have an RQS (not enough road meets) but will after Saturday and has a shot to jump up into the 20s and upset the order of things a little bit.
The battle for the top 36: Keep an eye on two teams currently sitting outside the coveted top 36 but with a chance to burst into the promised land this week—Central Michigan and Kent State. CMU heads to Ball State for a Sunday meet, looking to drop a 193 and replace it with a mid-195 that would be enough to gain several ranking spots. For Kent State, a slow start to the season mixed with meet cancellations has put the team behind and currently ranked in the 40s, but there’s a 192 ready to be dropped this weekend, so expect a shake-up.