Sigh. The 7-week itch. The mid-season blues. The limbo between the energetic, hopeful start to the season and things actually…mattering. Every season has that little dip, but while there’s not really a marquee meet or top-10 contest this weekend, there are some interesting little nuggets to watch out for peppered here and there.
 Nebraska @  Minnesota
Sunday, February 16th, 6:30pm CT – Big Ten Network
Minnesota is having an excellent season. That is a given. The Gophers enter this meet as the somewhat surprising favorites and are well on their way to a strong season finish, comfortably competitive RQS (sorry, NQS, the mob has spoken), and feared-postseason-spoiler identity. Still to be resolved, however, is whether Minnesota can remain a top-10 team by continuing to get the kind of mid-197s it did against Ohio State—or whether 196.8s and a spot in the tweens are the more likely story. These next couple meets will determine that fate.
The more significant score/ranking implications, though, belong to Nebraska in this one. Nebraska has the fewest meets remaining among the top teams, with a break in week 9 and no double weekends, which gives the Huskers just five chances left to get scores. They do have two strong numbers so far—197.100 and 196.975—and with five left, can afford exactly one more lower score and no others if they want to get out of this portion of the rankings and avoid having to worry about the top-16 cutoff. If a big score doesn’t come on Sunday, then every remaining meet has to be strong.
Remember that only the top 16 teams get seeded in regional semifinals, and everyone else just gets flung wherever, so finishing the season in the top 16 is a big deal. I’ll be watching that cut-off point intently over the next month or so. Last year, it took ~196.6 RQS to get into the top 16, and since scores among this tier of teams have been higher this year than last year (TWIST), any results under that mark aren’t super helpful in the quest.
 Florida @  Auburn
Friday, February 14th, 7:30pm CT – SEC Network
You’ll notice that “teams that need scores” is going to be a major focus from here to the end of the regular season because even though having top-5 teams go against each other is fun and competitive…wins don’t matter. Those teams are basically already qualified to regionals with a high ranking and seeding are going to be fine. After this week, Florida will join Oklahoma in the category of teams that could just play hooky until regionals and it wouldn’t matter at all.
But for Auburn, even if you anticipate a loss to Florida here, the score is exceptionally important because of that nasty little 17 next to the team’s name. Auburn will have the same goal as Nebraska in terms of finishing in the safe part of the top 16, but with a peak score of 196.700 so far, Auburn has a lot of work to do. The 196.2s and 196.3s we’ve seen most weeks recently aren’t going to do the job, and with just two home meets left including this one, this meet against Florida is probably the juiciest opportunity Auburn has left to get a huge 197.
 Kentucky @  LSU
Sunday, February 16th, 2:30pm CT – SEC+
In this one, we have a Kentucky team coming off a season high of 197.275 and improving each week—and relishing the opportunity for a shot at LSU in what looks like an unexpectedly even clash. The situation is further complicated for LSU since it will be the second leg of a two-meet weekend.
How LSU manages the lineups from Friday to Sunday will be a massive deal because with Edwards having been out, and Edney limited, and Desiderio not fully back yet, the last thing LSU wants to do is push those athletes unnecessarily in February without any titles on the line—or push the people who’ve had to pick up the lineup slack in the meantime and haven’t had any kind of rest.
It’s a challenging position because LSU is also looking for results and scores. Sure, wins don’t actually matter, but LSU takes pride in its home record, just lost at home to Alabama, and will feel the pressure not to do so again. (That’s also why I think that if LSU holds back at one of the meets this week, it should be Friday’s four-team GQ Invite rather than this one. That’s a podium meet as well, which may change the approach as to who can handle the landings.)
But there’s also the matter of LSU’s scores. They’re fine, there’s no actual danger here, but there’s also only one score on the slate so far (that 197.775 against Florida) that is an LSU-level number, and the team sure doesn’t want to stay stuck at that #9 ranking with these high 196s.
The other top teams, for that matter, don’t want LSU ranked this low either. While it seems counter-intuitive, LSU’s biggest rivals want LSU to start scoring really well too (maybe not really well, but well) because if the season ended right now, LSU would be the #3 seed in a regional site where only two teams advance. The last thing a team like Oklahoma or UCLA wants in its home regional that’s supposed to be a breeze is LSU rolling in as a #3 team ready to steal someone’s spot.
 Arkansas @  Alabama – Friday, 6:00pm CT – I feel like this meet should be the highlight of the schedule, but both of these teams are in much stronger positions than I would have expected coming into the season. This was supposed to be a depleted Arkansas with a new coaching staff just barely hanging on in the conference, going against an Alabama team trying to cling to national relevance.
Instead, Arkansas is cruising with 196s (still needs more of them to keep this ranking up, but is in a safer position overall than a team like Auburn), and while Alabama will need to be on the lookout for high road scores in coming weeks, this is a home meet and the overall scores are already shaping up so much better than last year. So it’s a worthwhile competition, should be high quality, but the surprise for me is how relatively little is riding on this one. Both teams have six remaining chances to get the 2…ish? good scores they still need to pad their rankings. Very doable.
Boise State @  BYU – Saturday, 7:00pm MT – The typical contender in the most trouble this season is Boise State, currently ranked 37th and outside even the regionals places (last season at this time, BSU was 10th). Being without Courtney McGregor—and also Alexis Stokes, who was huge on bars last year—has left Boise State scrounging for enough routines to compete. With six meets left, and a season high of 195.525, the turnaround must start this weekend if it’s going to happen at all.
 UCLA @ Arizona State – Saturday, 3:00pm MT – UCLA heads to ASU this weekend looking to avoid the Arizona State curse that definitely exists. In the last two Arizona State home meets, the visitors have not had a fun time—Davis got three 8s on bars and two 7.7s on beam to end up with a 187 final score as if they didn’t have enough routines (by they did), and Cal had a bars injury in warmups and counted a miss there, the team’s best event.
 Southern Utah @ Utah State – Friday, 7:00pm MT – Southern Utah’s attention-grabbing program record 197.225 last week will mean more eyes are on this week’s road performance to see if this team is for real on a weekly basis.
 Oregon State @  Utah – Saturday, 1:00pm MT – Those teams hanging around the 16 zone have to worry about Oregon State making a mid-season run with these higher 196s. There’s not really a quality difference between the teams is the teens and OSU, so Oregon State will be looking to use this meet to go 196.8+ again and continue making a run. Utah is in safe position with scores, though will want to start making sure that vault is keeping up with events like beam (what a difference a couple seasons makes…)
Penn State @ Ohio State – Friday, 6:00pm ET – Excited for this one for sheer competitiveness. Ohio State is at #26 and Penn State is at #28 and this is among the actual “I don’t know who’s going to win” meets of the week.
 Cal @  Stanford – Sunday, 3:00pm PT – What, again? This is Cal and Stanford’s fourth meeting so far this season in seven weeks. What is there left to say? Girl, you need to move on from him.