Oklahoma, Temple @  Denver
Sunday, February 7 – 2:00pm MT – Denver stream ($)
The season’s first clash between Oklahoma and Denver is supposed to pit these two hitting, high-scoring juggernauts against each other in a preview of a national semifinal (or even final as in 2019), but rather we’re greeted by two teams who just burped up a 195.850 and are eager to look around the room and be like, “Who did that?”
The goal for Oklahoma in this one is simple: hit. Hit, and this should be a perfectly good, “Oklahoma’s back” score that goes well into the 197s. But as we’ve seen for the last two weeks, that’s not a given. It’s clear that Oklahoma is suffering from a lack of personnel (if Woodard and Trautman were healthy, it’s a different beam lineup), but at the same time, the counting falls last week came from Audrey Davis and Ragan Smith, two athletes who would be in the first-choice Oklahoma beam lineup in any year. Even in its current incarnation, that beam squad should be hitting and should be scoring well. The floor lineup, also lighter than normal and perhaps the bigger postseason concern, has gone 49.3+ in three of four meets, and hasn’t proved to be much of a scoring weakness in practice.
So, the necessary tools are already present, even now, and odds are that Oklahoma pulls it together shortly and returns to the kind of score we saw in the first week. But the team does have to prove that this is merely a blip, rather than some “Oklahoma’s bad now” COVID-season diaper tornado that will last for weeks and weeks. The longer there are falls, the more it’s going to look like the second one.
Speaking of blips, Denver also had a bad one last week, though quite a different kind of bad one. Denver was not forced to count any falls en route to its 195.850, but had to deal with 9.6 after 9.6, almost all from people who should be in first-choice lineups and typically score a couple tenths better than that. Denver will be eager to put those aside (and get Brown back on floor) as a vulnerable Oklahoma team comes to town. Oklahoma is the favorite here, but given the mistakes we’ve seen lately, Denver will feel this meet presents one of its better dethroning chances.
Beyond just not having 9.6s, Denver needs to deal with vault and floor. The team is ranked just 21st on vault and 19th on floor, compared to 3rd on bars and 4th on beam. Certainly, this is a bars and beam team, which is fine, but that vault lineup has 10.0 starts from Brown, Mundell, and Glynn, and more Yfull options than in past years, and really shouldn’t be ranked that low. Watch for some improvements there since that lineup needs to get into the 49s for Denver to be a force this year. Bars is spectacular, but it can’t do that much work.
Not to be forgotten, Temple is joining this meet, looking not for a win but to soak up some of the reflected glow of the other two teams and improve on the current season high of 193.650. Temple just notched a huge floor result of 49.250 in its last meet (on the road) with the entire lineup going at least 9.825, which is better than Denver has scored on floor at any point this season. So keep an eye on how that Temple floor lineup directly compares. In every meet so far, Temple has had a three-miss rotation on either bars or beam, so eradicating catastrophe is the primary goal in this one (should feel right at home!), leaving open quite a bit of room for growth in those total scores.
It costs $10 to subscribe and watch this meet, which is some BS, so if you don’t want to do that, I’ll be sure to live blog it all and tell you what’s happening and who looks like she’s about to do a murder.
 Minnesota @  Iowa
Saturday, February 6 – 3:00pm CT – ESPNU
In a twist, Iowa comes into this one against Minnesota as the higher-ranked team. Minnesota will nonetheless expect to win since Minnesota’s lower ranking is built primarily on counting falls in two out of three meets—and last week’s 196.6 with a counting fall is still higher than Iowa’s season best—but in our new world order in 2021, this meet is now a competition of equals.
When these two teams went head-to-head three weeks ago in the season opener, Minnesota took the victory by .575, winning vault, bars, and beam, while Iowa notched the higher score on floor. Floor is the one event where Iowa remains ranked higher than Minnesota, and Iowa will have two goals on floor this week—1) scoring better than Minnesota, 2) seeing how many times they can make Kathy gasp on the broadcast. Both equally important. Minnesota, meanwhile, will look to run away with this one in the first half with quite a bit more vault difficulty and the Loper-Ramler punch on bars. A lead of more than a fall for Minnesota after the first two events is quite possible and will be the aim.
 LSU @  Auburn
Friday, February 5 – 6:00pm CT – SEC Network
Theoretically, the result at this one should be straightforward. LSU has scored much better than Auburn so far this season, but after the one-week delay because of LSU’s COVID tracing, there are some additional questions. What was LSU’s training like during the contract-tracing week off? Are there significant contributors who will have to be out for this one? That could have quite the influence on LSU’s prospective performance and expectations. At the very least, it sounds like they’ve figured out Haleigh Bryant’s floor routine.
(Bryant received a 0.1 up-to-level deduction last time out because routines must include at least one acrobatic series—defined as three elements in a tumbling line—which Bryant did not have. For composition requirements, the need for a series can be superseded by a direct acro combination of two elements, which Bryant has in her front lay to rudi, but the up-to-level requirements still necessitate one three-element series. Basically, it serves to illustrate that it’s kind of a useless requirement in cases like Bryant’s because the idea that her routine with a double front, front 2/1, and rudi isn’t up to the competitive level of tumbling passes—meanwhile Daisy Back 1.5 is scraping the floor with helicopter legs and scoring 9.925—is hilarious.)
Auburn, meanwhile, has struggled early in the season and is yet to break into the 196s, trotting out some depleted lineups here and there. The unexpected week off may have come at exactly the right time and given Auburn the chance to get some people healthy and back into lineups so that this 4th meet can become a more competitive score. In the tentative lineups, Cassie Stevens is slated to return to the all-around after missing a couple weeks, and Aria Brusch is penciled in to return on beam. That would help a lot.
The off week – With 5 of the top 10 teams out of action this week, it’s a sparse schedule overall. Having just a quartet of meets on a Friday in February is the weirdest sensation. And it would have been a trio if not for the LSU/Auburn reschedule.
MRGC – This does, however, provide and opportunity to focus on teams that you don’t normally watch. The MRGC duals are finely poised again.  Southern Utah visits  BYU and  Utah State visits  Boise State on Friday and Saturday evenings respectively. Southern Utah and BYU received the exact same scores last weekend, and pretty much just watch out for all the 196s flying out of Utah. Because it’s a thing.
Cal @ Arizona – Cal’s opening meet 195.750 put the team ahead of Arizona, which has peaked at 195.650 so far this season. But it’s close, and with Arizona hosting and Cal traveling for the first time this year, things could get interesting. Cal is looking to evade the SV cops on beam and floor to get that total score into the 196s this time, as well as break the Arizona bars curse. For whatever reason, Cal has an exceptionally bad record on bars when competing in the state of Arizona, and Cal’s last away meet at AZ resulted in a four-fall bars debacle.
George Washington…finally? – George Washington has been forced to pull out of two competitions to start the season and is hoping to get underway, at last, hosting New Hampshire on Sunday.
Season? – GW is one of the last teams to get started, though not the last. Stanford is still hoping to have a season now that training has resumed, though did have to cancel its intended February 15th opener against Utah and currently plans to start on February 20th at Arizona State instead. Long Island is still slated for the program’s inaugural meet on February 13th. The DIII west teams will have a shortened season this year, with first meet on February 25th.
Or no season…? – Sacramento State is out for the season, and the last two DIII east holdouts—Springfield and Rhode Island—are currently planning one dual meet against each other in March. No word yet on San Jose State, which still has a couple March meets listed on the master calendar.