LSU @
Friday, January 10 – 7:30pm ET – SEC Network
LSU’s visit to Georgia probably always would have been the marquee meet for this weekend, but the semi-tragic events of last Friday have served only to heighten the intrigue. Both teams opened with…bad. Georgia lost Rachel Dickson for the season at its final practice and looked stretched for routines on a few events for an (admittedly tightly evaluated) 195.100 at the Critique Classic. Meanwhile, LSU recorded its lowest team total in 7 years (195.725) at its opening meet, counting a fall on beam and basically counting a fall on bars as the wind tickled some alarm bells about how the team might fare post-Finnegan and Co.
For both teams, then, this second meet becomes Operation Muffle Alarm Bells. It will be very easy to forget those first-weekend meets ever happened—but only as long as these teams reverse course immediately.
For Georgia, beam and floor went fairly well in the first meet. The team’s undoing proved to be vault and bars, so to have any chance to upset LSU, Georgia will need to pick up those events quite dramatically. Vault will be the easier of the two scores to improve because even without Dickson, this team should have a nationally competitive number of 10.0 starts to pair with some viable and proven supporting fulls. Vault has little business being a weakness this year.
Bars, however, will be a bigger challenge because that lineup had depth issues even with Dickson and now must really work to cobble together 6 routines that might stay in the vicinity of a team like LSU. Getting Oakley back in the lineup is essential because she and Roberts will have to pull a lot of weight with what will be, at this point, a couple presumed 9.7s joining them in that lineup. Can bars be good enough? It’s the question of the week for Georgia.
LSU’s biggest problem last week came on beam with the counting falls, but those falls were from people who should be in the final lineup and will score well all season, so if they hit this week, it’s not a thing. Yet. Like Georgia, LSU’s vault and bars provoke the most interesting questions for Friday’s meet. We saw Alyona Shchennikova debut in the bars lineup last weekend and look…not ready? Is an additional week enough time, or will LSU put that project on hold and play around with a different lineup? As for vault, it went fine in the first week, but it was unusual to see LSU put up vaults that were only OK in the early spots. Do the options exist to pump up that lineup back to last year’s level?
Expect LSU to win this one, but whether both teams can make “no need to worry” statements is the crux of the week.
Arkansas @ Florida
Friday, January 10th, 7:00pm ET – SEC+
Arkansas’s visit to Florida first and foremost features the Jordyn Wieber Head Coach Debut Special. Because she’s a college gymnastics head coach now. Meanwhile, I’m sitting in the exact same place I was when Andrea was making her interview-cry at the 2012 Olympics. So that’s a cool realization.
There will be minimal expectations for Arkansas in this meet going up against a heavily favored Florida team, which is probably ideal for the first competition of a brand-new coaching regime. It wasn’t the easiest to come up with lineups of six for Arkansas this year, so the first exercise of the season will be examining how deep and complete this team can be.
The last time we saw Florida do gymnastics was that regional final disaster, so the team will be eager to put that performance to rest with…like, a good one or something. With the overall scores being kind of pedestrian in the first weekend, the Gators do have an opportunity to put up a statement number in this meet since they’ll view Oklahoma’s nation-leading 197.350 as on the weaker end of the spectrum for a home-meet total. Florida’s home low last year was 197.300, and the last time Florida went sub-197 at home, the team was a zero-time national champion.
Alabama @  Auburn
Friday, January 10th, 8:00pm CT – SEC Network
The whole Alabama/Auburn thing is mostly a “state of Alabama” situation that I don’t understand, but apparently people care about this. In gymnastics terms, we have a somewhat similar dynamic to the LSU/Georgia meet—even though Alabama hasn’t competed yet. Auburn had a pretty weak opening performance and will seek to send a message that it was just cobwebs and weirdness…and won’t be repeated in a significant setting this weekend. Meanwhile, Alabama debuts for the season under a tremendous amount of scrutiny given the team’s recent descent in the rankings, and the whole not advancing to nationals thing.
For Alabama, much is riding on Makarri Doggette and Luisa Blanco to give the team reinvented, fresh life as four-year all-around stars. Blanco is a later addition to the team, so expectations should be muted for her in these early meets, but Alabama needs Doggette to be a star right away— both in order to beat Auburn and in order to prove serious national competitiveness this season.
- Washington, TWU @ Michigan – Michigan should come through this one comfortably, but the Elise Ray Classic (and if you’re not billing this meet as the Elise Ray Classic, what are you even doing?) will provide our first competition glimpse at the much-touted Sierra Brooks and Gabby Wilson for Michigan, as well as how a fairly tiny Washington roster is making its way to six on each event this season.
- Missouri @ Kentucky – Both teams showed only medium performances in the first week for mid-195s, though Missouri did so with a counting fall. Positions are up for grabs in the still in-flux SEC hierarchy at this meet.
- Oklahoma @ Arizona State – ESPNU is taking this one as Oklahoma will look to come in and bully a young, rebuilding ASU roster by multiple points. The presences of Olivia Trautman and Cairo Leonard-Baker—neither of whom competed last weekend—will be worth keeping tabs on.
- Best of Utah – But also all of Utah. All of the Utah teams will meet for a podium meet this Saturday because anyone who’s anyone has a podium meet now. Also Utah should win this one pretty handily, and you can’t watch it.
- Minnesota @ Denver – This meeting of the 2019 upstart indie favorites—Denver finishing at a program-best 4th and Minnesota completing its rise back to the national conversation after a two-season sojourn—is the life goal of meets for those who feel that only caring about SEC and Pac-12 teams is embarrassingly 90s. Denver is the major favorite, but Minnesota has retained enough quality from last season that there shouldn’t be a major blip rolling into this season.
- Norcal Quint – The five Norcal teams reunite for their annual potluck, where Cal will once again enter as the expected class of the field. There’s a stream this year, so you might actually be able to see one or more routines from this meet. It’s a whole new world.
- Boise State @ UCLA – Boise State is one of the more question-marky teams this year and gets to open with a minimal-expectations road meet against UCLA. BSU’s roster looks pretty upperclasswomen-dependent, so I’m keen to see how the newer ones contribute, especially with eyes on the future. UCLA had some unexpected event absences last weekend, so watch to see whether those continue or if that was just January nothing.
- If you’re a fan of judging fuckery, you missed a real treat earlier today with Nebraska/Southern Utah because this was easily the loosest scored meet we’ve seen so far this year. On vault and floor in particular, I had most of the routines scoring a full tenth lower than they actually did. But then Taylor Houchin stuck this Y1.5 and received a 9.975, which looked like a psychopathic episode because based on the standard of the vaults that were getting 9.900 earlier in the same rotation, this should have been a 12.975. Fun!