Utah @  UCLA
Sunday, February 23rd, 3:00pm PT – ESPN2
Well, look how that worked out. Utah and UCLA find themselves tied in the rankings heading into their annual wackadoo dual that is truly going to be a sight this year. What do we think…three 10s? Five?
UCLA has been the stronger team over the last couple seasons and is hosting the meet this year, so the advantage will default to the Bruins. At the same time, we’ve seen UCLA putting up some non-ideal lineups lately, and last weekend the Bruins scored basically the same thing for a (semi) hit meet as Utah did for counting a fall on floor. That’s why Utah will feel, with a hit meet, this thing is very winnable, even on the road.
While it’s all been “Utah’s beam, Utah’s beam, Utah’s beam” (and we’ll get there), at least equally critical in this performance will be vault. Utah’s vaulting last week was excellent in the Y1.5 landings department from Hall-Burch-Tessen, a serious step—or seven—better than what we had seen earlier in the season. If repeated, and if UCLA is still hopping around on those 1.5s, vault provides Utah with a chance for a legitimate multi-tenth advantage. Because UCLA is theoretically the stronger team on bars and floor, Utah will be particularly keen to muffle that advantage with its vaulting performance so that winning doesn’t have to be all about beam.
As for beam, that’s obviously going to be THE TEST of this meet because it has been easily Utah’s best event this year while it has been the rebellious problem child for UCLA. But when you look at the gymnasts in these lineups, Utah shouldn’t actually be any better than UCLA on beam given that the Bruins can put up people like Ross and Glenn and Flatley. The difference between the two beam teams has been consistency, health, and confidence. So most important for UCLA will be not just hitting beam but hitting to the lineup’s actual potential. Last week’s 49.275, for instance, was an improvement on some of the weeks before, but still not enough to cut it or to minimize the beam difference that rankings tell us exists between these two.
Much depends on the actual fullness of UCLA’s lineups. I mentioned that the Bruins should be the better team on bars, but that’s fairly contingent on Frazier being in the lineup for a 9.9+ routine to complete that unassailable Flatley-Kocian-Frazier-Ross punch. Meanwhile, floor has certainly done the job—being ranked #1 and all—but Flatley-Lashbrooke-Andres is not the final, ideal, postseason leadoff group with the highest scoring potential. Now, I mean, it’s UCLA at home in a big regular season meet. They could put up Nicki Shapiro doing a yoga workshop in the third spot and get 9.875 for it (the dream), but if there are tenths that need to be made up in the final rotation, you want gymnasts like Frazier and Tratz in there for the most likely 9.9+ scores.
This is going to be a fun one.
The Big Fives
Friday, February 21st, 7:00pm ET – FLO
 Nebraska,  Illinois, Ohio State, Iowa, Rutgers
Saturday, February 22nd, 7:00pm ET – FLO
 Minnesota,  Michigan,  Maryland, Penn State, Michigan State
What…are these meets again? Don’t worry, I forget every single year. Also it changed this year, so that’s cool too. The system used to be that the results from these two Big Five meets would determine which six teams competed in the evening session and four teams in the afternoon session at Big Ten Championships. No longer.
First, the conference championship has changed the session dynamics for 2020 so that the bottom six teams compete in the afternoon session with byes and the top four teams compete in the evening session with no byes. I like this system better—byes are terrible and boring and should be a punishment for the teams ranked lower.
Also, the Big Five results do not singlehandedly determine which teams are in each session this year. That is based on conference record, for which the Big Five meets will be very influential but not everything. That means that Michigan and Minnesota are in the best position for the evening session because they’re both undefeated in conference, but then we have Maryland, Nebraska, and MSU on 3-2 and Ohio State and Penn State on 2-3, all in with a shot depending on how things go this weekend.
Illinois, Penn State, Maryland, Iowa, Ohio State, and Michigan State are also all going to be crazy-close on qualifying score, so this head-to-head (to head to head to head) will be both influential and informative.
 Alabama @  Florida
Friday, February 21st, 6:00pm ET – SEC Network
This is among the schedule highlights because it’s two top-10 teams and a big SEC clash, though I’m not sure I have a ton to say about it. Florida is looking strong and needs two more 197.8y scores in the remaining five meets to ensure it will be the #1 seed at a regional site, which is an easy prospect. Nya Reed has been out lately, so keep an eye on her status because she makes vault and floor much better when she’s in (she was the best January vaulter on the team), and I’ll be interested to see what the final decision is on trying to make Baumann’s Y1.5 happen in the coming weeks. Things to watch out for, but nothing to keep Florida from being a pretty comfortable favorite at home against Alabama.
Alabama could be on the verge of developing a balance beam situation (especially because even most of the hits have been low 49s), but it’s too soon to tell. We’ll know more after another evening of observation. The floor lineup also took a hit with news of Griffin James’ Achilles injury, but there should be several other viable floor options on this roster. Klopfer has competed a couple times this year, or we’ll see if this means Blanco gets another shot. Blanco should be in Alabama’s best-case floor lineup but fell in her one competition routine so far this year. She seems the perfect nominee for one of those shit-ton-of-leaps 2020-code routines.
Most importantly for Alabama…a road score. Right now, Alabama is ranked worse by qualifying score than by average, mostly because of the road score picture, and needs to take advantage of being in Florida to avoid dropping spots when qualifying score takes over in the rankings on Monday.
 BYU @  Denver – Saturday, 6:00pm MT – The big story in this one will be the Denver lineups following the news of the season-ending Achilles injury to Lynnzee Brown, along with the injury to Mia Sundstrom that kept her out the past two meets and that we have now learned is also season-ending. That brings Denver’s already-small roster of 12 down to 10 athletes for the remainder of the season, only 8 of whom have ever competed counting routines before.
All lineups are going to take a scoring hit without Lynnzee Brown because its Lynnzee Brown—that’s a given—but beam and floor should be the safest moving forward. Emma Brown has some pretty potential on floor and showed routines earlier in the season (there was also talk of Vasquez getting in on floor), and Callie Schlottman has been doing exhibition on beam for the last few weeks and getting 9.8s, so she should be prepared to come into that group.
Natalie Morton is the backup on bars (now that Amoree Lockhart has joined the lineup) and would be the most likely to round out a new six, though her scores tend to be in the 9.6s and aren’t necessarily something Denver wants to have to count. Vault, however, is the most obvious concern because Denver has been competing only five, and one of those five was Lynnzee Brown. Now the team is left with Karr, Glynn, Ruiz, Subject, and not a lot else. Ideally, Lockhart would be able to join the lineup because she was a very strong vaulter pre-injuries in JO, but we haven’t seen her on vault this year. Emma Brown was in the sixth spot last week but didn’t go because the first five hit and I’m not sure what vault she would deliver. Victoria Fitts, who also joined in January, had a full in JO, but we haven’t seen her this year.
That’s why…yeah, vault is going to be interesting this week. So interesting that I would have put this meet among the schedule highlights…if we could watch it. Which we cannot.
 Georgia @  Kentucky – Friday, 7:00pm ET – SEC+ – Georgia is ranked ever so slightly ahead of Kentucky on average, but Kentucky is ranked ever so slightly ahead of Georgia on qualifying score. Right now, that’s the difference between 4th and 5th in the conference, between making the evening session at SECs or not, so the scoring race between these two teams will be a major story of the second half of the season.
They’re basically equivalent, though have taken very different paths to get there. Georgia’s strength has been home performances, with its three highest scores coming at home, while Kentucky’s strength has been road performances, with its three highest scores coming on the road. So…neither team gets to compete in its most comfortable setting this season. Time to reverse the trend to keep up with the rest of the country. That’s most important for Georgia because, like Alabama, the road scores need to pick up.
 Auburn @  Arkansas – Friday, 6:30pm CT – SECN – Last week’s 194 performance means that Auburn is currently ranked last in the conference, inviting some urgency in the race to get a high score and prove that the team is more competitive than the performances we’ve seen so far would indicate. Auburn was supposed to be the better team than Arkansas this year and will be eager to make that point tomorrow.
 Oregon State @  Cal – Saturday, 1:00pm PT – P12N – Oregon State is finding its footing in February, but this is an essential performance for the Beavs because the road scores aren’t there yet and this is already the team’s last road meet until Pac-12s. Something like a low 196 isn’t really going to help the last-minute assault on the top 16 that OSU is trying to make. Cal is currently in a strong qualifying-score position with four 197s so far this year and has scored 197.325 in both home meets so far this year. Doing that again would allow the team to drop a low 196 road score and further solidify status as a legitimate top-8 contender.
 Iowa State @  Southern Utah – Friday, 7:00pm MT – Pluto – If the SECN meets aren’t your speed (or access level) on Friday night, you have a free stream of Iowa State/Southern Utah to enjoy, currently the two most compelling upset bids for spots in the top 16.
 Oklahoma v.  Stanford – Friday, 7:00pm CT – The two meet in the annual NADIIIAAAAAAAA extravaganza. Stanford is looking for a road score since the team’s away peak so far this year is just 195.5, while Oklahoma will be…seeing how many 10s there are?