Alabama @  LSU
Friday, January 31st, 7:30pm CT – SEC Network
The sole top-10 matchup of the weekend sees Alabama visit LSU in a meet presenting a major opportunity for both teams, though one that is likely more important for LSU than it is for Alabama. Sure, a win for Alabama would be a huge deal, a big step forward (more like a three-tenth lunge) in making the case that the slump is over—and a plump 197 road score is always a mouthwatering prospect in a meet like this. But if Alabama manages to, say, hit 197.2 and lose by five tenths, you don’t chalk that up as a disappointment, really. It’s fine. It’s still a solid marker toward making it back to nationals, and Alabama wasn’t the favorite anyway.
LSU, meanwhile, is the favorite—at home, and facing a team it has been comfortably better than for several years now. LSU is also eager to prove that despite losing to Florida last weekend, the team is closer to Florida at the top of the conference than it is to Alabama/Georgia in the next tier. A convincing win over Alabama would make that case.
At this point in the season, both teams are working to move out of “flashes of excellence” territory and into “we do well on all the events, and like…every time” territory. LSU got its closest so far last week with strong showings on vault, bars, and beam, but still wasn’t ideal on floor with the injury to Sarah Edwards providing a deflating moment in that rotation and a lineup question moving forward to this meet. We’ve learned that the injury is just a sprained ankle and nothing worse, but that’s still probably going to change the vault and floor dynamics for a spell. LSU shouldn’t be hurting on floor by the end of the season, but if Edwards is out for a bit (and we haven’t seen Desiderio there, and Rivers hasn’t done floor yet), the lineup could be scrounging for routines. On vault, we did see the full from Nibbs at the beginning of the year, but it is certainly a lower-scoring option than Edwards’ 1.5, so don’t be surprised if LSU experiences a scoring dip on those events this week. (Cut to everyone getting 9.950 on floor and DD transfiguring into an actual tiger mid-rotation.)
Alabama has its own lineup conundrum to work out after last week’s performance, where some lineup changes from the strong outing against Oklahoma ended up undermining a couple of the rotation scores. Alabama will absolutely want Luisa Blanco on bars and floor in the postseason, but she missed her first routines on both events last week, and if the team feels like it’s in it with a shot to upset LSU by going through cleanly, is it worth putting up a questionable hit? Typically, I’d say Alabama needs to go all-out, putting out every possible best routine, to have any shot at beating LSU at LSU. That’s probably still the case, but since LSU has shown those counting-fall moments so far, Alabama may consider a “let’s try for six hits everywhere, get our road 197, and it might also work out for a win” strategy.
The Feast of St. Counter-Programmings Day
 Auburn @  Georgia
Sunday, February 2nd, 4:00pm ET – ESPN
Stanford @  Oregon State
Sunday, February 2nd, 1:00pm PT – Pac-12 Network
 Illinois @  Maryland
Sunday, February 2nd, 2:00pm ET – Big Ten Network
On Sunday, my insufferable sea monster compatriots will be transfixed by another edition of Oblate Spheroid Toss Performance, leaving sports networks that can’t show that ball recital in a conundrum, which ESPN (and now others) finally realized is where gymnastics comes in. We have three college meets headlining the feast of St. Counter-Programmings Day this year. It’s like Valentine’s Day, but instead of cardboard hearts full of chocolates, you get a fall in the second spot on beam.
And all three big meets on Sunday should be quite competitive. Georgia is the favorite against Auburn at home, but several of Georgia’s performances so far this season have been low-196y, which is a very attainable result for Auburn. Auburn’s first two rotations will be critical. Getting an advantage with vault and bars is the path because Georgia is probably the stronger team on beam and floor, and at home, you’d expect Georgia to run through floor especially.
Stanford and Oregon State have been occupying a very similar stratum of the scoring pile lately (with Stanford just moving ahead of Oregon State after Monday’s score), and in most cases, one doesn’t really have an area that stands out over the other. That’s especially true because Stanford’s beam looked a lot more competitive on Monday than it had previously. That Lowery-Yanish 1-2 punch at the end of floor for the Beavs in the last rotation could provide that little edge, but the team has to get them there first. In terms of which meet is actually most exciting for competitive purposes this week, Stanford/Oregon State might be your bet.
Maryland has somewhat surprisingly been outscoring Illinois so far this season, with two 196s and a would-have-been-a-196. In some ways, this is going to be Battle Bars and Beam because I prefer those events for both teams, but the main difference between the two this year has been Maryland’s ability to get some really strong vault scores well into the 49s while Illinois has been bounce-on-a-full-for-9.750, so how they compare on vault may actually be the most significant.
 Michigan @  Nebraska
This meet classically serves as the battle for supremacy in the Big Ten—although this season Minnesota is politely saying, “Ahem hem” from the other side of the room. Michigan’s higher overall scoring potential means you like Michigan as the favorite in this one, but Nebraska is at home and just went 197 in its last meet with a score not-too-far behind what Michigan did.
To get the upset, Nebraska will have to keep pace with Michigan on bars and beam. The Huskers have been a little more depleted and a little more uncertain on those events overall this month, and that won’t fly against a Michigan team that should be very strong on both. But, this meet is most of all a vaulting showcase, with Wojcik and Houchin going head-to-head, and also Michigan’s lineup of four Y1.5s going against Nebraska’s lineup of…4-5?…Y1.5s. Those vault squads may end up canceling each other out in terms of the result, but they’re also the centerpiece of the meet.
Meanwhile, this is a Thursday night competition, so…just go watch it in a second or something?
 Washington @  UCLA – This meet provides Washington with a huge opportunity to follow up that 197.225 last week with a similar score by taking advantage of some reflected UCLAing. A ranking at #11 feels high for Washington based on preseason expectations, but a second similar score would help consolidate that position.
 Florida @  Kentucky – This meet has a similar dynamic to the one above, with Florida also expected to win without too much trouble, but Kentucky in a position to put up a very useful score for rankings, even if it’s a loss. There’s also some slight pressure on Florida to show that last week’s score and performance can also be replicated on the road, as Oklahoma already has a road 198 and three road 197s (in four opportunities), while Florida has one road 196 (in one opportunity).
 Utah @  Arizona – Utah has been weirdly under the radar so far despite being the #4 team and being Utah—there aren’t a lot of big-name meets on Utah’s schedule this year (save for UCLA on Feb 23), Skinner isn’t there grabbing headlines, and 197.0s are more meeting-expectations scores for Utah than wow-let’s-see-what’s-going-on-there scores. A big 197 on the road, something like a 197.5, would help produce that statement result.
North Carolina @ NC State – Battle North Carolina should be pretty evenly matched, as long as North Carolina figures out bars. It’s still too early to talk NQS (he lied, it’s never too early), but both teams are expected to be on or around the cutoff cusp again this season and need any and all 195s.
Bridgeport, you OK? – Bridgeport is competing three (count ’em 3) times this weekend, with a meet in Pennsylvania on Friday night, and then back to Connecticut for a meet at Yale on Saturday afternoon, and then a meet at home on Sunday afternoon.