Here’s a rundown of the various randoms I’m thinking about heading into the…second-to-last weekend before conference championships. You know, the big one.
UCLA @ Cal – Saturday afternoon is going to be a thing. In this season’s shifted hierarchy, UCLA currently ranks 4th in the Pac-12 to Cal’s 3rd, while Arizona State leapfrogged both to move into 2nd after last week’s two meets. It’s a different world. And yet in dual meet results so far, it’s pretty much been the same world. The normal expectations have held. UCLA and Cal have both defeated Arizona State and suffered their only losses in pretty tight meets away against Utah. Those are basically the results you would expect in any old season. This weekend, Cal will be eager to confirm that these shifted 2021 roles—where Cal is the numerical favorite against UCLA—are a real life thing with an actual win in a dual meet.
In practice, there hasn’t been much separating these #2, #3, and #4 teams in the conference in their scores all season. All three have been in the low 197s thus far for their good hits, so UCLA/Cal result—as well as their final season rankings—should be considered a toss-up. Arizona State hosts Arizona simultaneous to the UCLA/Cal meet, though ASU’s low home score is already a 197.150, which means there’s probably not a ton of room to continue improving that ranking this week. Meanwhile, UCLA is trying to drop a 196.600 and Cal is trying to drop a 196.075, so there’s clearer room for those two to raise their NQSs with quality performances in a bid to catch ASU.
Final SEC meets before championships – Week 10 is a rest week in the SEC, so this weekend provides the final chance for these teams to compete before the conference championships. Things riding on this: Kentucky still has a low road score to drop and could pass Arkansas for the final spot in the evening session at SECs with a big score along with an Arkansas meh result. Yeah, the evening session. It’s difficult to measure whether there’s an actual scoring advantage to competing in the evening session at these conference championships because…yeah obviously the scores are going to be a lot higher in the evening, the better teams are competing then…but the middle-of-the-conference teams do seem to care about getting into the evening session in the hope of getting some “Well, we just gave Florida three 10s, so we’ll give you a 9.950” scoring.
Speaking of things people seem to care about…with a win against Alabama, Florida can clinch sole ownership of the SEC regular-season championship. Not to be confused with the SEC championship. Which you win at the SEC Championship. I know. These regular-season championships. Iowa apparently won the Big Ten regular-season championship with an 8-0 record even though they lost to Minnesota twice. I have no idea, and even less interest.
Other than that, things are pretty settled within the conference. Missouri still has a very low road score to drop and can make a large and sudden ranking move with a hit at LSU. Georgia is starting to be in serious danger of going to regionals unseeded if this week’s score isn’t better than the low 196s they’ve been getting. That’s significant because, if the season ended today, Georgia would be an unseeded host of the Florida-Arkansas-Cal-Boise State regional, and based on how they distributed teams in 2019, Georgia would be in a regional semifinal (round of 32) against Arkansas and Cal with only two teams even advancing to the regional final (round of 16). It would be bloodbath out there.
Regionals – For pure reference, those “if the season ended today” regionals would be as follows (though basically meaningless because Michigan won’t be ranked until Monday):
Florida – Arkansas – Cal – Boise State (@ Georgia)
Oklahoma – Arizona State – UCLA – Southern Utah (@ West Virginia)
LSU – Alabama – BYU – Kentucky (@ Alabama)
Utah – Minnesota – Auburn – Denver (@ Utah)
(We know Georgia would have to host the Florida regional because the top team gets geographical precedence, and Florida is closer to Georgia than West Virginia.)
Given a semi-normal hit on Sunday, Michigan could go somewhere like 5th in the rankings (anywhere from 4th-7th really), so this is the current regional setup if we prospectively sneak Michigan into 5th instead.
Florida – Arizona State – Arkansas – Southern Utah (@ Georgia)
Oklahoma – Alabama – Cal – Kentucky (@ Alabama)
LSU – Minnesota – UCLA – Denver (@ West Virginia)
Utah – Michigan – BYU – Auburn (@ Utah)
Also, can we please dispense with the alleged geographical distribution of the unseeded teams? With Alabama, Georgia, and West Virginia as regional hosts, there’s no way you can distribute teams by geographical proximity. It’s just a mess.
Oklahoma. What’s up with that? – Half of Oklahoma’s meets this season haven’t been awesome. But the other half have been fairly awesome. That has given rise to the primary title-related question of the season: Is Oklahoma clearly weaker than Florida, or a viable co-contender with Florida for the national championship?
The answer has been different every week, and with Oklahoma competing on both Friday and Sunday, the answer might shift multiple times within the weekend. Who can say? Especially as Oklahoma is currently aiming for a pretty significant late-season lineup injection when you account for Trautman and Smith and Woodard coming back to various events to remove those 9.7ies.
Postseason qualification – There are two standards the challenging teams are eager to reach: top 36 means qualifying to regionals, and top 28 means avoiding the first-round elimination dual meets at regionals. Most teams still have three meets left (some more), so the ranking situation remains pretty amorphous, especially because the high score isn’t dropped this year. Much will still change right through conference championships, and a random senior-night 196.6 would be enough to jump one of those teams 6-7 ranking spots to go from outside regionals to challenging for the top 28.
I’ve been harping on the Nebraska scores a lot, and that’s still the case because this is a high-profile team in real danger of not making the top 36—currently sitting in 35th and desperately needing one of those random 196s. Rutgers is now within sight of Nebraska, just a few tenths behind, which will provide some real motivation in its eternal quest to get out of the Big Ten basement. Imagine if Georgia finished ranked last in the SEC and Nebraska last in the Big Ten. It could happen. (Although with Michigan State still in a holding pattern after competing only twice…)
West Virginia sits just behind Nebraska in 36th, the final qualifying spot, and as a regional host, would…sort of rather not have to host a regional that they don’t even get to participate in. So the pressure is on there. Arizona got its season high of 195.650 in the very first meet and hasn’t come close to matching that since, now sitting in the least-fun spot at 37th place. On the topic of Pac-12 troubles, Washington added a Wednesday meet against Cal to the schedule so there are still technically four meets left for UW to get four good scores, but boy would they need to start being good.
Washington isn’t, however, in danger of the conference basement because of Stanford. Last week, Stanford competed but tried to pretend it wasn’t competing by not advertising or tweeting about the meet or providing any stream or scores. And then we understood why when the score came in at a 133, with only three people competing on UB/BB/FX. Stanford went on to cancel its mid-week meet at Cal but is still slated to travel to Washington this weekend for a meet on Sunday that I am way too fascinated by.