Saturday, January 25 – 7:00pm CT – FLO
 Oklahoma,  Denver,  Alabama,  Georgia
Grab your Ativan and an entire wedding cake because Metroplex is here again. On the heels of the “SHE WAS OVERSCORED TO A DEGREE BEYOND WHAT I EXPECTED, WHICH WAS ALREADY SOME” drama that followed…pretty much all of these teams last weekend, they now assemble at the Metroplex Challenge, a meet that is famous most of all for being the judges’ annual popping-off convention. So, it’s going to be an experience.
Oklahoma will be the favorite, and based on what we’ve seen so far this year, anything less than a 0.500 margin of victory for the Sooners would count as a win for the other teams. Barring OU falling, those other schools will aim toward keeping things close. And placing second. All remaining teams will feel that they’re in with a good shot for runner-up. Denver retains the best ranking of the trio but also has the lowest season high of the group after Alabama and Georgia’s home experiences last weekend. Because of that, this meet becomes a useful comparison among the three as we try to begin to sort out the potential postseason hierarchy—as Denver hopes to continue showing that life has changed and that Alabama and Georgia may have the names and history but not the same current quality, and Alabama and Georgia hope to show exactly the opposite and that things haven’t changed that they are still among the best and Sarah and Suzanne and yada yada yada.
Based on what we’ve seen so far, I’d say the order of the rankings is an accurate interpretation of where these teams sit (noting that Georgia would be #9 if the Monday meet were included in the week’s rankings) and should be the pre-meet expectation for their finish here, but any order for the 2-3-4 teams would not be that shocking.
 LSU @
Friday, January 24th, 7:30pm ET – ESPN2
As we move on from Alabama and Georgia facing off at Metroplex, we come to the dual meet that has become the new Alabama/Georgia in the SEC—LSU and Florida.
This meet has taken on a fairly strange recent dynamic in that if you recall last season (which you probably don’t because who can remember these things), Florida traveled to LSU and won by less than a tenth in a result that wasn’t controversial at all and no one had any thoughts about. The year before, LSU did pretty much the exact same thing and went to Florida and won by .125. Seeing these teams lose at home in a big, close, no-counting-falls SEC clash is pretty rare, and for it to have happened twice in a row in the same series is even rarer. LSU’s going to try to make it three.
To do that, LSU would need to put together a complete meet at a level we haven’t seen yet this year. The beam falls, the 9.7s on bars, the short floor landings that have characterized this January for LSU all have to go to have a shot at beating Florida.
Because we haven’t seen that full, four-event hit yet, we don’t really know what LSU is capable of scoring and whether that score could outmatch a hit meet from Florida at home, but you have to think it’s completely possible given the roster’s talent.
Though you also have to consider Florida the pre-meet favorite, and with more assurance than we usually have in a meet between these two teams. There’s often not a favorite in this one because it’s LSU and Florida, but so far this year…there sort of is. Florida’s two scores this season are both higher than LSU’s season best, which accurately reflects Florida’s lineups beginning the season from a higher standard with more depth, more experience, and more auto-9.9s. Florida is currently ranked better on bars, beam, and floor, and in particular bars and beam should provide the Gators with an edge. Florida will look to excel on those events (and will hope for 49.5s) and then run toward the finish line on floor in the last rotation.
LSU has been the better team on vault so far this season, and no aspect of this performance is more important for LSU’s chances of winning than showing superior landing control on the Y1.5s (aside from, you know, hitting routines). If LSU can pick up some tenths from vault landings and stay with Florida after two rotations, then you’d consider LSU right in this thing with a shot to take advantage of the third rotation, when the Tigers are on floor and the Gators are on beam. That second rotation—when LSU is on vault—is huge because Florida will view bars as its surest-thing edge (as far as sure-thing edges go in this meet) and will expect to use that event to create a real lead heading into that third rotation instead of being neck and neck.
So it should be a fun one, is what I’m saying.
 Kentucky @
Friday, January 24th, 6:00pm CT – SEC Network
Arkansas is sort of an enigma so far this season because we saw that first-meet struggle in Florida, followed by two tremendous scores in losses against top teams, both coming in what I’d call…oddly evaluated environments. Those last two performances, however, should lead Arkansas to fancy its chances for a spot in the good part of the SEC hierarchy this season. Exactly the kind of spot Kentucky has occupied in recent years and is looking toward occupying again. That makes this meet particularly significant because if you want to be that SEC spoiler this year, you need to be the better team in this competition.
Oregon State @  Arizona
Saturday, January 25th, 2:00pm MT – Arizona live stream
This story is flying under the radar a little bit, but Oregon State is currently ranked outside the top 25 and has peaked at 195.325 in the first three meets, which is a dramatic drop for a team that made nationals last season. Arizona, meanwhile, is attempting to make its own move, rising up from the basement of the conference—and did defeat Oregon State just last weekend in Sacramento. Oregon State did count a bars miss in that meet to fall behind, and your instinct based on history and roster would be that the Beavs are the stronger team here, but they’re going to have to start showing it. Sometime soon.
 Missouri @  Auburn – Missouri is another team looking for that first good hit of the season, currently ranked last among the SEC teams and desperate not to be left behind as the other teams in the conference start to put together “196 and we can do better” results. Keep an eye on whether that good hit happens this week. Auburn is the favorite, but also exactly the kind of team Missouri would have to show it can beat to maintain conference relevance.
Iowa @ Penn State – Penn State hosts this Saturday clash between two evenly matched teams, both of which will view the amorphous free-for-all we have in the Big Ten right now as an opportunity. Maryland has stated its case early on with two 196s, and Penn State and Iowa will take a “what, so you think you’re better than me?” approach to that development with eyes on breaking into the 196s themselves. PSU came pretty close at its last home meet.
 Maryland,  Central Michigan @ Ohio State – Ohio State will view its own meet similarly. The ranking disparity is clear but the quality disparity shouldn’t be that significant among the three teams, making for another close one that Ohio State will be circling in particular in its quest not to be left behind.
 Illinois @  Minnesota – Minnesota currently reigns as the best-ranked team in the conference and will hope that last week’s judges at Rutgers (one of whom gave three 10s to the Minnesota beam rotation) opened the floodgates for more to come. For its part, Illinois would love the same as the team works to try to get out of the 195s, scores that are looking increasingly beatable.
 Cal @  Washington – Cal’s roller coaster early season is currently on a high after recording a 5th-best-team-score-ever against Stanford, which lifted the team back in the top 10. Cal now faces the test of whether that can be repeated on the road against a Washington team that would be up to #16 in the rankings if Monday’s win against Boise State were taken into account.
 UCLA @  Stanford – UCLA will enter as the major favorite in this one, but also keep an eye on Kyla Bryant’s lineup presence after that scary beam miss last week. Mostly I mention this one because it’s on a Monday night and don’t forget.