Oklahoma @
Friday, January 17 – 8:00pm CT – ESPN2
With two 197s in the team’s pocket after the first two meets (which counts as an accomplishment this season), Oklahoma is the strongest-looking squad of the young year and heads to Alabama as the heavy favorite. Though we still have some questions about Oklahoma’s lineups while Trautman is out and the team experiments with options on vault and floor—and a two-meet weekend for OU provides yet more opportunity/need to get different people in—this top-10 clash is more about evaluating Alabama’s level.
Alabama showed some encouraging moments in its opening competition, particularly from the freshmen Doggette and Blanco (and actually Maddie Desch did one of her best-ever floor routines) but it was still just barely a 196 with a counting fall on beam. Matching up directly against Oklahoma, Alabama needs to show that its more Yfull-heavy vault lineup doesn’t pale and drop a tenth on every routine and that the cleanliness of the bars work exists to get the team out of 9.850 zone. Even if the meet result is fully determined by whether Oklahoma hits or not, Alabama can go along way in its renaissance mission by keeping things competitive. It was a major storyline last season how long it took Alabama to break into the 197s—not doing so until March—and the team would like to avoid a repeat of that unfortunate streak.
 Auburn @  LSU
Friday, January 17th, 7:30pm CT – SEC Network
Auburn comes off a bolstering win against Alabama for 196.625, while LSU comes off a slightly disheartening victory over Georgia for 196.725—which emphasizes the disparity in expectations these two teams have and why LSU will be considered the favorite here, even if a tentative one based on the wobbly start. A mid or high 196 in this meet would be a strong result for Auburn that would continue to erase that first-week performance and set the team on a competitive path toward postseason spoiler territory. The same score for LSU would be a miss. And a loss, even if it’s a win.
LSU has not yet broken 49 on bars, and the strategic talking point of the week has been Alyona Shchennikova—whether downgrading her routine, holding her out of the lineup for a bit, or just trucking along is the best strategy to get her to a place where she can deliver the anchor-level score LSU needs in April. Wait and see, I suppose. Though just as important will be improving the quality of the floor landings over last week and putting up a fully hit beam rotation, because Auburn is not going to be a pushover opponent. LSU should win and should have the stronger lineup on all four events, but Auburn will get some 9.9s and some 49+ rotation scores. The second rotation is key in this one, with Auburn on vault and LSU on bars. If LSU continues to be a little eh on bars and Auburn’s Y1.5s deliver as promised, that rotation is the best opportunity for Auburn to snatch an advantage.
 Michigan @  Illinois
Saturday, January 18th, 2:00pm CT – BTN+
One would not have picked Illinois to be the higher-ranked team when these two met, but here we are. It’s a scenario based pretty much entirely on Michigan having counted a fall on beam last week—and you’d expect Michigan to pull it back together for a solid 196 this time—but Illinois counted a beam fall of its own last week for a similar score. Illinois ranks very well on bars and floor so far, and circumstances like the Mia Takekawa beam 10 are helping Illinois make an early argument for national relevance.
This competition, then, is a perfect test against the presumed best team in the conference. How close is this meet? Does Illinois have the routines to keep up? I’m skeptical in some respects, particularly on vault, but even a somewhat close loss would be a strong result for Illinois here.
 Stanford @  Cal – Stanford and Cal will meet on Sunday for the third weekend in a row like that enemy that somehow worms her way into your friend group and you’re like, “why is this always here?” Cal triumphed on the first two occasions but neither team will be happy with the result from last week and will be looking to erase the taste of 194s. Cal was depleted on floor last week with Mastrangelo and Solari (still) unavailable and will need to find a full six to get the scores back.
Monday meets – Remember that three meets are on the schedule for Monday (because of honoring Martin Luther King through the medium of toe point), with higher-ranked Iowa State visiting Georgia as everyone grabs the popcorn for Georgia’s bars rotation, Arkansas and Oklahoma getting their second meets of the weekend in, and Boise State visiting Washington to try to show us that it’s going to be OK post-McGregor.
 UCLA, Utah State @  BYU – UCLA heads to BYU this week, mostly trying to prove that beam is not a problem, or at least not a PROBLEM. As is the case for most of the top-ranked teams this week, the Bruins will come in as heavy favorites, but BYU is known for being able to churn out 196s at home, so it may not be a walk if there are falls involved again.
 Denver @ Arkansas – Denver takes its early-season no-falls streak to Arkansas for Wieber’s home head-coaching debut. Arkansas was short several key routines in its first meet against Florida, so keep an eye on how soon some of those gymnasts might be able to come back to primp these lineups.
 Florida @  Missouri – Missouri has experienced a somewhat pedestrian start to the season with losses against Illinois and Kentucky, and while a meeting against heavy favorite Florida presumably won’t help the W/L record any, it is an opportunity for Missouri to show that it is more than a mid-195 team this year. Which it really should be. Having Aspen Tucker back in would help.
 Arizona, Oregon State @ Sac State – In one of the ranking surprises of the early season, Oregon State is currently ranked behind Arizona and will feel a bit, “Ma’am no” about that development. It has been a slow start for the Beavs, who will be looking to reassert the typical conference status quo in this meet.
Iowa @  Maryland – Maryland achieved a (surprisingly rare this season) first-meet 196 to manage this lofty ranking—at a meet no one got to see. So I’m looking forward to the chance to evaluate Maryland properly as to whether this team is the real deal.
Penn State @  Nebraska – This Thursday meet is going to start fairly soon and I’ll be live blogging it, so…head over there shortly for thoughts?