Cal @  UCLA
Sunday, March 8th, 1:00pm PT – Pac-12 Network
In the bookkeeping portion of this meet, Cal has a very specific scoring goal, with a 197.125 guaranteeing moving up ahead of Alabama for next Monday’s rankings. Qualitatively, Cal is looking to bring the level we’ve seen on vault over the last couple weeks through to the other events. If those last two meets are any indication, Cal can win vault at this meet because those Yurchenko 1.5s have been looking stronger than UCLA’s lately.
Last week, it was falls on bars—what really should be the team’s best event, even without Kuc—that proved Cal’s stumbling block, and the beam lineup very much missed Kyana George (look at us, look at us, talking about beam as Kyana George’s most important event). If those lineups are full and hitting, a lower 197 should be very attainable and basically the expected score at this point. While UCLA is the major favorite—and a 49.7+ floor rotation in this meet just feels like a given at this point—you wouldn’t die of shock if Cal were right in it after the first two events.
UCLA also has some manner of a scoring goal at its remaining meets with a few 197.2s still hanging around that need to go away, but the overall scoring picture is sufficiently strong. A 197.800 can ensure keeping the #3 spot for another week.
The larger question for UCLA is…where is this team in the title-race hierarchy? For several weeks now, we have seen Oklahoma and Florida dramatically distance themselves from the pack and make a fairly convincing argument for nationals 2020 being a glorified dual meet between the two. UCLA currently sits closest to them in 3rd, but we haven’t yet seen that same kind of nationals-caliber showing from the Bruins—that four-event, stuck-Y1.5s, bars-rotation-where-you’re-not-worried-about-a-fall-in-the-middle (*whispers Kocian and Frazier into a crystal ball*) performance that it will take to look like a convincing title winner.
There’s a difference between a meet with occasional gorgeous moments Kylaing around here and there that can go 197.6+, versus a meet that’s going to win a title. And we need to start seeing the latter. Otherwise, the nationals conversation will be more about whether UCLA can hang onto a place in the four rather than whether UCLA can win the season.
That dynamic is what makes this my marquee meet for the weekend because UCLA is talented enough to become the next-most-likely title winner, but you don’t get to keep talking about potential in March. Floor and Kyla and Glenn Beam can take you only so far (I mean, pretty far, like 3rd, it’s Kyla), and there need to be a couple more puzzle pieces in there.
Also, I would like to note for the record the joy I experienced when I wrote the words puzzle pieces and then immediately realized the feature image I could use for this. Unparalleled.
 Georgia @  Alabama
Saturday, March 7th, 7:30pm CT – SEC Network
For our post-American Cup after party (try not to get as drunk as the judges), we’ll be treated to the eternal college gymnastics classic that is the Suzanne-Sarah Cup. Which is totally what this meet would be named if not for the fact that the controversy over whose name goes first would result in a local stabbing. Seriously, someone needs to solder a trophy together with both of their heads Face/Off-style to be presented to the winner of this meet every year. Why have we not thought of this before?
The teams could end up ranked in either order after this meet depending on the result (Alabama has the higher peak so chooses its own adventure in that regard), but they’re both currently looking pretty solid for the 3-4 spots in the SEC and evening session placement.
Alabama will be considered the favorite here, but this one is largely in the toss-up category. I like Alabama to score better on bars, and while I do think Georgia’s floor can stay with Alabama on a good day, Alabama is at home, so…
Beam is probably my preferred event for both teams, but it’s especially important for Georgia as the best opportunity to stake its claim to a winning rotation. The overall extension and presentation through spots 1-6 has been stronger for Georgia this year (I say “overall” and “through spots 1-6” to guard against a WHAT ABOUT LUISA BLANCO moment. I know.)
I’m interested to see what Georgia tries on vault this week because, while neither team is breaking the scales with a super huge number of 10.0 starts this year, Georgia has a couple more maybe-1.5s in its back pocket that haven’t made it into the lineup with any consistency because…they might cause the death of a passerby. If Georgia feels it needs another little boost on vault in this meet (and moving forward), watch to see if some of those 1.5s get another day out.
 Michigan @  Oklahoma
Friday, March 6th, 7:30pm CT – Fox Sports Oklahoma Plus
You know how it’s Maggie Nichols Senior Night and you can only watch it if you get Fox Sports Oklahoma Plus and we’re all OK with it? You know that thing?
The Maggie Nichols score situation is predominately the story here, intertwined with Oklahoma’s quest to set a new NQS/RQS record with a 198.375, because beyond that…Oklahoma is the #1 team, is sure to remain the #1 team next week, and is pretty much ready for the elimination meets. Oklahoma is Olivia-Trautman-back-on-floor away from a seriously full and title-competitive repertoire of routines that you would be fine teleporting right to Fort Worth.
There’s a bit more riding on the Michigan score here because Michigan is making a convincing late-upset push for a #1 regionals seeding, yet still needs to get rid of a couple road scores and replace at least one (if not both) with new-normal 197.9s in order to make that quest look truly realistic. Between what we’ve seen the last couple meets from Michigan and what the scoring is probably going to be like at this one, there’s every reason to expect Michigan can put up another big number as well, even if Oklahoma is the big favorite.
 Missouri @  Nebraska – Saturday, 7:00pm CT – This is among the most ranking-significant meets of the entire weekend. Missouri has an opportunity to move up into a semi-comfortable seeded position with a strong result here, while Nebraska is in absolute need of a big score to get back up into the top 16. The danger of not getting into the top 16 is geographical regional placement, and Nebraska’s two closest regionals (Denver and Oklahoma) look to be the deepest and most challenging for unseeded teams. As things stand right now, I’d have Nebraska going to the Denver regional and competing in a regional semifinal with Denver, Georgia, and BYU (at least, based on the dumb way they distributed the teams to semifinals last season). And that’s just to try to get to the final 16. Which would be fun for none of those teams. But definitely fun for us.
 Washington @  Oregon State – Friday, 7:00pm PT – This is a big competition for Oregon State as there’s a seriously wide range of possible rankings the Beavs might inhabit after this meet depending on the result, some of them pretty bad. In other news, Oregon State is probably not getting into the evening session at Pac-12s, but that probably becomes a definitely if this isn’t a big, better-than-Washington score. Washington has two big road meets this week (at Oregon State and at Denver) and is likely to be closer to Cal for 3rd in the conference than to Oregon State for 5th in the conference at the end of it.
Arizona State got the necessary score against Stanford on Monday to move into a safer position, and Boise State can do the same with a result against Southern Utah on Thursday. By the time Friday starts, we’ll know how urgent things are for the other teams fighting for what may end up being just two spots at regionals. Right now, those other teams are Central Michigan, New Hampshire, Pittsburgh, and North Carolina, with Kent State, George Washington, Western Michigan, and Northern Illinois as potential spoilers if they get some big scores and help. So…
 Auburn, C. Michigan, Rutgers @ New Hampshire – Sunday – 1pm ET
Pittsburgh @ Arizona State – Sunday – 1pm MT
North Carolina @ Ball State – Sunday – 1pm ET
Kent State @ Western Michigan – Sunday – 1pm ET
Illinois State @ Northern Illinois – Friday – 6pm CT
Maryland, George Washington @ Towson – Friday – 7pm ET
Maryland, Yale, Towson, W&M @ George Washington – Sunday – 1pm ET
Sunday is going to be a big day for calculators. Of those bolded teams, Pitt and North Carolina have the highest potential scores, so they can determine the framework next week if they get 196s.