Category Archives: NCAA Schedule

The Weekend Plans – February 19-22

We’ve already hit the point in the season when teams begin having senior night/day. What is happening? This weekend marks the final home meet for Stanford and Iowa, among others.

Top 25 schedule

Friday, February 19
6:30 ET/3:30 PT – Western Michigan @ [21] Eastern Michigan 
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [2] Florida @ [19] Missouri
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [25] Illinois @ Michigan State
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – New Hampshire, North Carolina, William & Mary @ [17] George Washington
7:30 ET/4:30 PT – [11] Arkansas @ Maryland
7:30 ET/4:30 PT – [18] Minnesota, Air Force @ Iowa State
8:30 ET/5:30 PT – [8] Auburn @ [6] LSU
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – [3] Michigan, UC Davis @ [23] Southern Utah
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – Ohio State @ [9] Boise State
Saturday, February 20
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – [1] Oklahoma @ [10] Georgia
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – [4] Alabama, [13] Denver, Cornell @ Penn State
5:00 ET/2:00 PT – [5] Utah @ [12] Stanford
5:00 ET/2:00 PT – [15] Cal @ [16] Oregon State
5:00 ET/2:00 PT – Towson @ [24] Iowa
Sunday, February 21 
2:00 ET/11:00 PT – [22] Kentucky @ West Virginia
3:00 ET/12:00 PT – [14] Nebraska, NC State, UW-La Crosse @ Iowa State
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – [7] UCLA @ Washington

Monday, February 22
9:00 ET/6:00 PT –[20] Arizona @ Arizona State

Live blogging
Friday and Saturday, as is becoming the norm. Friday’s headline meet is Auburn and LSU, but Michigan and Florida will be worth keeping an eye on as well. Once again, Saturday totally beats Friday, with a whole heap of overlapping afternoon meets. It’ll be another Gymnastics Situation Room kind of day, so prepare your eyes, devices, and attention spans.

Rankings
We move onto RQS Island starting on Monday, which means we’ll have a more defined sense of exactly what teams need in order to move up now. Oklahoma is guaranteed to retain the #1 ranking for at least another week. Alabama and Florida are neck-and-neck for the #2 spot right now with both teams heading out for what should be comfortable road wins. A slight advantage goes to Florida because the Gators have a 196.350 to get rid of while Alabama is trying to drop a 196.775. Florida is more likely to increase RQS even with an average result. 

Michigan is almost surely safe at #4, with only UCLA having an outside chance to overtake (though it would take a season-high for UCLA and a season-low for Michigan to get it done). UCLA is currently at #7 but has a 195.175 road score to drop this weekend and with a big result, can leapfrog both #5 Utah and #6 LSU regardless of what either team does.

Stanford and Georgia are two other teams with high increase potential, with Georgia looking to drop a 195.700 and Stanford looking to drop that nasty wretch of a 194.800. Also, don’t lose track of Iowa. Iowa is currently at #24, but with a fifth consecutive 196, it would not be surprising to see Iowa jump right up into the mid teens.

Friday
-Most of the results on Friday seem relatively predestined, except perhaps for Auburn and LSU, the annual instance of Tiger on Tiger crime. Auburn is coming off that huge upset of Alabama and, more importantly, a return to the type of scores we saw last season. Winning away against LSU, however, is more challenging prospect. LSU is the stronger team overall and so tough to beat at home, but LSU has managed a 197 just once so far this season, not displaying enough consistency yet to earn the mantle of prohibitive favorites. LSU didn’t count a fall last weekend but still came in below Auburn’s mark by half a point because of way too many minor errors across every event. 

Until last weekend, vault would have seemed a major advantage for LSU, and while LSU still should have the edge primarily because of the Gnat Factor, Auburn can keep the meet close early, or event get a lead, if the vault landings are similar to last week. The halfway lead may be possible because bars, particularly dismount control on bars, is one area where Auburn has looked stronger than LSU. It’s necessary because once we get to the second half of the meet, LSU has more 9.9 potential on beam, meaning that if LSU actually hits real routines (hasn’t always happened/hasn’t usually happened), Auburn will drop tenths in spite of Demers/Atkinson greatness. Those tenths will be tough to make up against LSU on home floor.

-Florida’s mission this weekend is a big road score, which has so far eluded the team. This Gator roster is far too capable to be maxing out at a low 197 on the road, even in February. Last weekend’s result was perfectly solid, but a little misleading in the vault and floor scores because essential routines from Sloan and Baker were missing, which made those rotations look a little more flaccid than they are. Yes, I used the word flaccid. Florida doesn’t have enough depth on vault and floor to rest people and still maintain Florida-esque scoring potential, but with full lineups, this team should be able to do mid-197s regardless of venue. We do still need to be on floor watch/Bridgey watch, though.

-Another up-for-grabs result should be New Hampshire (and company)’s visit to George Washington. Both teams have scored 196 this year. Both teams have scored 194 this year. George Washington is more consistent and less likely to throw up a stinker on vault and floor, which primarily accounts for the difference in ranking as New Hampshire has the ability to score quite well on bars and beam while counting 9.1s on vault and floor. I’ll be keeping an eye on those scores.

Saturday
-Did you guys hear that Georgia’s, like, good now? Starting recently. That should make Saturday’s showcase meet against Oklahoma a much more interesting prospect. If Georgia is able to continue getting home mid-197s, Oklahoma will actually have to pay attention and try this time. Oklahoma probably has the edge on each event, but Georgia shows a touch more difficulty on vault, which could be an advantage if the landings are there. Keep that Brittany Rogers DTY. I think she proved last week that it’s comfortable enough to be worth it. In general, Georgia will be aiming to replicate last week’s performance and wait for Oklahoma to suddenly have more errors than we’ve seen in this recent run of 197.9s. Both teams are pretty exciting to watch (sometimes even for good reasons), and I’m eager to see their routines back-to-back.

Oklahoma has not been completely impervious this season. We’ve seen some strange things, like the unexpected regression of Kara Lovan, who is currently not making any lineups and falling all over the place. My fantasy gym team is not happy about it. The Sooners have enough depth to afford that, but Lovan got two 9.900s in Super Six last year, and those are 9.900s the team would have been counting on this year. There are plenty of 9.850s waiting to take those spots, but that’s still a .050 loss that could be significant later on.

-Utah goes to Stanford in a meet that is much, much more important for the Cardinal than the Utes. Utah could certainly use a big road score right about now, but there’s time. This is Stanford’s final home meet and one of just four remaining regular-season competitions, all of which need to be at least mid-196 if Stanford is going to feel comfortable staying in the top 12. It’s still sort of early for Stanford, but it’s starting to become crunch time when the real routines need to show up, instead of just being Ebee and the 9.750s.

-Cal has starting pouring on the scores like no one’s business over the last two weeks, so this will be a delectable showdown against Oregon State to see if the balance of power really is shifting in the Pac-12. Ever since Utah joined the conference, it has been the A Team: UCLA, Utah, Stanford, and Oregon State, and the B Team: Cal, Arizona, Washington, and Arizona State. Cal has been knocking on the door for a few seasons and had that great showing a couple years ago when hosting Pac-12s, but is this the year the power dynamic truly switches and a new top four is born?

Sunday
-Team Broken Sternum visits Washington on Sunday in search of a witch doctor who can bring Katelyn Ohashi back to life and show us what this team is truly capable of. And also a much-needed road score, what with this being the team’s final road meet before Pac-12s. If Peng doesn’t hit beam…
…we won’t do anything. She’s Peng.

Also, this is a thing that happened in real life.

“The Hip Hop Gymnast” was on Ellen. Please note that she will be known as “the Hip Hop Gymnast” in all future live blogs. Sonya Meraz is becoming a household name…

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The Weekend Plans – February 12-15

Saturday night meets? What, do they think we all have no lives? Oh wait, that is correct.

Top 25 schedule

Friday, February 12
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [9] Arkansas @ [2] Florida
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [15] Missouri @ [25] Kentucky
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Perfect 10 Challenge – [1] Oklahoma, [12] Denver, [17] George Washington, Utah State
8:30 ET/5:30 PT – [4] Alabama @ [8] Auburn
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – BYU, Sacramento State @ [21] Southern Utah
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – [18] Minnesota @ [14] Nebraska
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – [10] Boise State @ San Jose State
Saturday, February 13
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – [5] LSU @ [11] Georgia
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – Penn State @ [23] Ohio State
5:00 ET/2:00 PT – Iowa @ [20] Illinois
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Southern Connecticut @ [22] New Hampshire
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – Washington @ [6] Utah
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – [13] Stanford @ Arizona
11:00 ET/8:00 PT – [16] Oregon State @ [7] UCLA
Sunday, February 14
1:00 ET/10:00 PT – [25] Kentucky, Lindenwood, Kent State @ Ball State
2:00 ET/11:00 PT – Michigan State @ [3] Michigan
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – [24] West Virginia @ [4] Alabama

Monday, February 15
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – [19] Cal @ Arizona State

Live blogging
Friday as usual, probably with special attention to the Perfect 10 Challenge since I’ve seen so much of the SEC this year and less of Denver and GW. Saturday is also sort of making Friday look like an idiot this week, so I’ll be all over that with LSU/Georgia and then again later for the glut of Pac-12 action. It’ll get crazy. Sit back and let the insanity wash over you like a fine breeze or the knowledge of your own insignificance.

Friday
-The most competitive meets on Friday will probably end up being Missouri/Kentucky and Minnesota/Nebraska. The higher-ranked team will be favored in both, but upset potential exists. I’m particularly curious to see how Missouri fares away from home after that unexpectedly huge score last weekend. The next away meet is always the best test of how realistic home scores are.

-Among the big girls, Alabama against Auburn is the showcase on Friday. Apparently, this is kind of a rivalry or something, but in spite of meeting three times last season and this already being the second meeting of 2016, Auburn is still yet to record a victory against Alabama since turning good. At home and coming off a season-high, this is the best chance they’ll have. That said, Alabama should win the meet and is the better team on every event, but that doesn’t mean it will be a blowout. The Tide has displayed inconsistency this season, and while there haven’t been any implosions since the loss to Arkansas, counting medium mistakes or weak landings has become commonplace, including on two of the four events in the last meet. Relying on those mistakes will be Auburn’s hope.

Alabama has two meets this weekend, so I wouldn’t necessarily expect to get any answers about postseason lineups quite yet. Dana has been jumbling people all over the place and will likely do the same this time in order to keep everyone relatively rested and avoid over-pressing the fragile ones. I would bet on more depth exploration for the time being.

We should also be on Beers Watch 2016, not just because it’s important to start drinking during beam but because even though Lauren Beers has competed a remarkable amount for someone who spent the preseason in several pieces in a shoebox, she has been very up-and-down, occasionally starting to look like herself and then immediately falling a bunch of times. How much will they push her in a double-meet weekend, and will we see GoodBeers or DarthBeers?

-Nadia and Bart’s Perfect 10 Challenge (get it, because Nadia got a 10?) is Oklahoma’s home-away-from-home competition, basically a home meet that counts as an away score, though the meet hasn’t necessarily exhibited silly home scoring in the past so it essentially is an away meet. The Sooners looked serious last weekend, so I’m not worried about them. I’m more interested in the other teams competing for second place. Both Denver and George Washington have had their share of impressive scores this season, but those scores have not been achieved against major opposition in a higher-profile setting, so this is an excellent opportunity to evaluate how 9.875y those routines really look directly compared to an Oklahoma.

This is also a podium meet, which is always valuable experience, but for teams like Denver and GW that don’t go to nationals or a conference championship on podium, this is an even rarer and newer experience that may show up in the performances.

I’m mostly worried about what Kathy is going to do without Bart on Friday. It’ll be like that thing where you’re holding one half of an enchanted locket but can’t find the other half.

-Florida is also in action on Friday at the usual time, in need of a comeback meet after a burned-up mess on the last two events at Georgia. The Gators are at home, so the potential for a memory-wiping 198 is high. I’m not that worried about beam, even though they counted a fall last weekend, but floor is becoming more and more fascinating by the week. How can a lineup that has three legitimate 9.950s and is 4th in the country be such a worry? Viability hinges on Bridgey. Grab your spellbooks and pentagrams.

Saturday
-Saturday’s early session is headlined by the LSU/Georgia showdown. Georgia enters the meet in an odd narrative position because beam is not getting any better and was a river of salty tears again last weekend, and yet, they beat Florida. Does that give the team a boost of confidence to remember that I may or may not have described this as a top-5 beam roster in my preseason preview? Or is the epidemic even worse than we possibly feared?

LSU has had its own beam problems, sprinkled with a garnish of bars problems (can you tell I just finished watching Top Chef?), but last week’s meet was by far the team’s most refined, confident, and complete meet across four whole events, with just Sarah Finnegan going breaking our hearts on bars. It was LSU’s first meet without counting a fall in a month, which is both slightly horrifying and ultimately encouraging. Just like NCAA gymnastics.

The Tigers should take this one, even on the road, but if both teams actually hit, this will be a closely run affair. LSU gets the edge on vault. Georgia is a very strong vault team with superior difficulty and ideally would be competitive with LSU, but the landings the last couple meets have not inspired that level of confidence. There is a rumbling that we may get BATTLE DTY at this meet if Brittany Rogers decides to throw hers to match up against Ashleigh Gnat’s, which should be pretty fun. But the most important thing is that Gymdogs other than Brandie Jay show up with their landing pants on this time.

Georgia needs to be ahead at the halfway mark because it’s conceivable that they would have the edge on bars. Both teams have a couple potential 9.9s at the end of the lineup (with some caveats), but Georgia is a bit cleaner at the beginning of the lineup. They’ll have to take advantage of that and create a buffer zone to alleviate the pressure on beam. Beam is obviously what makes LSU the favorite in this meet. That’s not to say that the Tigers have been glorious on beam so far this year, but compared to Georgia, they’re basically a ball of diamonds in a pool of rubies. Even if Georgia were to hit 6-for-6 on beam, right after the unicorns with the Super Bowl with sparkle dust, LSU would still have the advantage because of a greater number of 9.9-possible routines.

LSU will need beam to come through because even though LSU would be considered the stronger floor team at a neutral site, the obscene level of home floor that is sprouting up all over the country this season renders LSU’s theoretical floor advantage null. We’re seeing home teams finish meets with 49.6s all over the place for perfectly well hit, but pretty normal, floor performances, just as Georgia did last weekend. Being better on floor doesn’t look like something the Tigers will be able to rely on, so they’ll have to win the meet because of lovely, hit beam or risk getting Florida-ed.   

-In the late session, the showcase meet features Oregon State heading to UCLA. For UCLA, all eyes are on Sophina after she became Sophina in the last week. I’m fascinated to see how she responds because suddenly she’s going to be the name in this meet and the gymnast people are waiting to see, or coming to the meet expressly to see. Sophina certainly thrives in the spotlight, but that’s a whole new level of pressure, especially for a gymnast who has not always been the most consistent (or there) on floor. I mean, you know something is going to go wrong this time. You know it. It’s like when Lloimincia had her moment and you knew she wasn’t going to make the floor final at nationals right after that. 

It’s a situation where usually I would argue for moving her to the anchor spot to take advantage of this attention and get her what is basically an automatic 10 if she hits her passes, but in this case it’s probably best just to keep things as normal as possible and not add any extra hoopla.

Attendance will also be interesting to watch. Has UCLA been able to turn this 15 minutes of being internet-famous into people in the seats? Or will it just descend right back into same-old, same-old, like gymnastics after the Olympics every four years? This won’t last. In a couple days, people will see the name Sophina DeJesus and think “Did I used to work with her or something?” so they have to take advantage while they can.

Apparently, there are also other gymnasts in this meet. Oregon State is coming off a 48.8 of a performance against Washington on Monday, which is not going to cut it against UCLA barring a meltdown. With the season-ending injuries to Aufiero and Dessaints, OSU has become a 9.825 team that lacks the big vaults and bars routines to compete with Super Six-contending schools. The same argument might be made for UCLA (is this going to be a good bars week or a bad bars week?), but UCLA’s situation is less extreme. The Bruins also boast big potential scores on beam and home floor—home floor is becoming the fifth event; vault, bars, beam, floor, and home floor—to make up for any 9.800ishness on the first two events.

Utah hosts Washington in what should be a comfortable showing. There are areas where I’m still not sold on for Utah, with a moderate-to-severe case of the Pac-12s on vault, but this should be an easy win. Hopefully Washington will come back after we got all excited about this team and then they had an absolute meltdown against Oregon State. Bars and beam pretty, come back to us. COME BACK TO US.

In the non-nationally-televised meet, Stanford heads to Arizona with Arizona looking to keep the cap on the beam this time and Stanford looking to…be a little less Stanford than last week? I know we all wait to even bother analyzing Stanford until mid-March because we’ve learned our lesson, but the dearth of 9.8s on vault and floor is an anytime problem.

Sunday
-Michigan went home and got better on Monday, finally breaking the 197 barrier in style and assuring everyone that Michigan-scoring is not a thing you have to worry about. The judges were really happy about that performance, especially the one who decided to give Karas a 10 on vault. Michigan has been moving along fairly well, and we can expect the scores to more regularly hit that mid-197 range as the details are refined toward the postseason. The Wolverines already have an RQS that would put them at a #2 seed at a regional, and it’s February 11th. Ideally, they’ll stop throwing in the random dropped fall on bars and beam that makes me nervous and can’t be afforded when things really matter, but there’s no reason not to expect another 197 this weekend against Michigan State.

The Weekend Plans – February 5-8

After this weekend, a number of teams will be halfway done with their regular-season schedules. Why yes, we did just start this two seconds ago. 

Top 25 schedule

Friday, February 5
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [1] Florida @ [11] Georgia
7:30 ET/4:30 PT – [23] West Virginia @ Iowa State
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – [2] Oklahoma, [10] Auburn, Illinois State @ Texas Woman’s
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – SEMO, Lindenwood @ [16] Missouri
8:30 ET/5:30 PT – [25] Kentucky @ [4] Alabama
8:30 ET/5:30 PT – [8] Arkansas @ [6] LSU
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – [9] Boise State @ [24] Southern Utah
Saturday, February 6
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – [7] Utah @ [5] UCLA
5:00 ET/2:00 PT – [19] Illinois @ [18] Minnesota
5:00 ET/2:00 PT – [14] Nebraska @ Iowa
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Utah State @ [13] Denver
Sunday, February 7
1:00 ET/10:00 PT – Towson, Bridgeport, Brown @ [22] New Hampshire
2:00 ET/11:00 PT – [17] George Washington, Northern Illinois @ Kent State
3:00 ET/12:00 PT – [23] West Virginia @ [2] Oklahoma

Monday, February 8
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Maryland, Eastern Michigan @ [3] Michigan
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – Arizona State @ [12] Stanford
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – [15] Oregon State @ Washington
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – [20] Arizona @ [21] Cal

Live blogging
Friday and Saturday. On Friday, my focus will be Florida/Georgia, the TWU meet featuring Oklahoma and Auburn, and Arkansas/LSU, with perhaps brief check-ins with Kentucky/Arkansas. Saturday is all about the Utah/UCLA rivalry. Also on Sunday, check your cable options if that’s your kind of thing because Oklahoma’s second meet of the weekend will once again be broadcast on some really random networks. Otherwise, just spend the day making fun of handegg like a normal.

Friday
-Coming off the pile of gold doubloons falling from the ceiling that was Florida’s meet last Friday, it’s hard to envision any kind of drop in quality coming into the Georgia meet. The Gators will be major favorites against the have-we-stopped-reeling-yet Gymdogs. As the road team, however, Florida may be hit with a reality stick this time around as to what scores they’re really earning for hit routines. Because Georgia has never exhibited crazy scoring. Never ever. I don’t know what you’re talking about. 

If Georgia is to pull off the upset, it will probably take Florida counting a mistake, but it will also take winning vault. That’s the one event where Georgia may find an opening. While Florida displayed much-improved landings over the weekend, and Georgia the opposite, Georgia has a touch superior difficulty and the real capability to stick for 49.5s, especially at home, which not that many teams have. If Florida’s vault landings return to mid-January level, Georgia could gain some very valuable early tenths.

Of course, we can’t go much further without talking about Georgia’s beam. It’s the all-important factor that will decide whether this meet is even in the vicinity of close. Last weekend, The Gymdogs graduated to just one fall, which was a laudable achievement, but they must take the next step and actually hit six whole routines this time. That’s the short-term goal, but one that’s immediately necessary with a tough opponent like Florida. The long-term goal, which could be decisive when evaluating postseason aspirations, is not just getting six hit routines but getting them from the six highest-potential scorers. Keep watching the lineup members and order. If Georgia is forced to compromise too much scoring potential in order to get a hit rotation, by removing pretties or moving top workers to early spots (my most loathed of strategies), that’s almost as bad as having a fall. 

As for the other events, Georgia has impressed so far on bars and floor. This was the least terrifying January floor performance of the Durante era, and bars looks much stronger than I thought it would based on preseason showings, with a particular gold star to Gracie Cherrey for cleaning up her DLO so dramatically in a short period of time. The question going forward for Georgia on bars will be Brandie Jay’s dismount. She’s capable of a big score on bars but doesn’t have the most pristine form or handstands in the world. Couple that with a DLO 1/1, difficult to stick and maintain body shape, and she’s always on the verge of getting dropped down to 9.800, a score that looks comparatively harsh against the rabble of much less inspiring 9.800s that we see all over the place. The team needs a 9.900 from Jay pretty much every time, so when will be the time to introduce a more cynical, simpler dismount so that she can join the ranks of stuck dismounts on this team? The Gators have more of those likely 9.9s, even for Piked Giant McGee, which will give them the bars edge.

On floor, I still think Florida is suffering from a case of the half-a-lineups, in spite of the score last weekend, but the big routines from Baker and friends will likely overshadow what Georgia has to offer. That’s why vault is so important for the GymDawwwwwwwwwgs. I added extra w’s because I can’t take it seriously. 

-Oklahoma heads to TWU looking for another nice road score (we’re going to have to start paying attention to the RQS outlook soon), though the main story of the meet will be how Auburn recovers from breaking into all the pieces last time out. With Arkansas eager to retake the spoiler role this season, Auburn cannot afford to replace these new missing routines with 9.700s and still be competitive. Auburn spent the preseason talking about the great depth on this team, so…time to prove it. The good news is that the loss of two vaulters coincides with the return of Kait Kluz on vault, which should mitigate the problem and may actually end up as an upgrade. Samantha Cerio will be called on to replace Engler on bars and beam. She’s a JO bars champion, so theoretically, the team should be able to absorb these injuries.

-The second real showdown on Friday features Arkansas and LSU. And boy, has the Arkansas bandwagon picked up a whole heap of steam. That’s what happens when you start the season fit and prepared. You score well, you upset less-prepared teams, and you accrue some of that valuable notoriety and reputation that all but the big-name schools lack. It’s a strategy Oklahoma employed very well for many years. Arkansas looks to have a solid 196 of a roster, but there’s more to prove if this team is truly going to be a threat in the postseason rather than a shooting star that falls back to the pack and finishes 11-13th once the best teams get their acts together. Away at LSU is a very good place to prove things.

LSU is stronger than Arkansas on all the events and should win the meet, with much bigger gymnastics on vault and floor and extra 9.9s on bars and beam that will push them over the top. Although, we do have to keep an eye on beam since it has been a problem in two of the four competitions so far. The Tigers will eventually have to rely on beam as an asset, not just an event to get through, so they need to figure out how to get over THE FRESHMAN LOST HER MIND-itis and figure out who’s actually in this lineup. In the preseason, it looked like LSU would have similar depth on beam as on vault and floor (events which have been able to endure a lack of Savona and barely miss a beat), but now…when is Priessman going to be able to beam? She’s looking more and more necessary.

Saturday
-The most interesting and least predictable meet of the weekend will be UCLA and Utah. The Utes recorded their biggest score of the season on Monday in their first Kari Lee-free meet, which was an important symbolic performance even though fancy fancy fictional floor scores papered over a couple holes, particularly vault and beam rotations that were not inspiring. UCLA, meanwhile, finally had its annual early-season UCLA road catastrophe, which helps remind us that these are still our Bruins. Phew. As far as the meet went, it actually wasn’t as bad as it could have been. It’s usually a 194. But the longer Katelyn Ohashi is out with her sternum fracture, the harder it will be for UCLA to contend. Even without Lee, Utah still has more depth.

It’s a tough one to pick. Utah showed much, much, much improved floor landings on Monday, catching up with a UCLA team that had scored well on floor in every meet until this most recent showing when the landings completely deserted everyone. Neither team gets the consistency edge there, but UCLA is at home in a major meet, so it’s quite easy to envision a repeat of that “Hallie Mossett gets a 10” scoring from the first weekend as long as the landings are there. In an even somewhat close meet, that could seal it, especially because the Utes end on beam, the event on which they feel the lack of Lee the most. I used to say that Utah was a team of 9.825s on beam, which was true for a couple years in there. Lee and Stover changed that last season, both capable of deserving 9.9s, but suddenly on Monday without Lee and with Stover falling, this looked like a team of 9.825s again.

Contrast that to the Bruins who, even without Ohashi, should dominate beam. But also, let’s talk about Peng’s composition. She’s vaulting, so I know she can use that wrist. It’s time to trash the bluetooth routine and give her something she can hit. UCLA’s path to victory involves winning beam by a real margin and then homing it home with homeness on floor. Utah, by contrast, needs to gain a serious edge in the first half, and since vault is not great for either team right now (minor advantage to Utah), that means nailing bars. Utah’s bars rotation is much more composed, reliable, and consistent than UCLA’s right now and should easily go over 49, whereas UCLA’s, especially in the absence of Ohashi, has form and dismount struggles and remains a nerve-wracking proposition.

In UCLA’s last meet, I was happy to see how much Honest is working on making toe point less of a weakness. The work showed, and even though Stella Savvidou had basically the worst possible college debut you could imagine and fell on every handstand, she’s a worthwhile project and a potential future gem. When she was hitting that first handstand, before she fell, you all had a Zamarripa moment and don’t deny it. The dismount looks like the real obstacle for her because she did a double tuck and cowboyed it pretty seriously, which isn’t so encouraging.

Monday
-The rest of the Pac-12ers will bunch together on Monday evening, and the most interesting prospect there is Oregon State’s visit to Washington. Washington used the opportunity of Metroplex to step out of the shadows a little bit, taking advantage of some Texas scoring and showing us what they’re truly capable of, especially on beam and somewhat on bars. Those are the obvious strengths and are both events Washington could conceivably win against Oregon State. In spite of the rankings and general accomplishments, this meet isn’t open and shut.

Oregon State does remain the more evenly balanced team, having displayed relatively consistent 48.800-49.100 scoring potential across all the events so far this year. That should be enough to win, especially because of Washington’s struggles for depth and 9.8s on vault and floor, but I expect it to stay pretty close. The Beavs still lack the 9.9s of a nationals team, so if they’re going to get out of the #15 doldrums, we need to see growth in that department. 

The Weekend Plans – January 29-February 1

The top 25 schedule looks like a rather paltry affair this week, but that’s mostly because it’s heavily incestuous with most of the top teams competing against each other. So, what we lose in quantity we should make up for in quality with a few legitimate marquee 50/50 meets. It’s worth getting excited about.

Top 25 schedule

Friday, January 29
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [5] Alabama @ [1] Florida
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [3] Michigan @ [17] Nebraska
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [13] Georgia @ [23] Kentucky
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [19] Illinois @ Penn State
8:30 ET/5:30 PT – [9] Auburn @ [8] Arkansas
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – BYU @ [10] Boise State
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – [24] Southern Utah @ Utah State

Saturday, January 30
1:00 ET/10:00 PT – [11] George Washington @ North Carolina
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – [18] Minnesota @ Ohio State
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – [14] Denver @ Bowling Green
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – Northern Illinois @ [24] Eastern Michigan
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Arizona State @ [15] Oregon State
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Metroplex Challenge ([2] Oklahoma, [6] LSU, [12] Stanford, [16] Missouri, Washington)

Monday, February 1
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – [20] Arizona @ [7] Utah
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – [4] UCLA @ [21] Cal

Live blogging
Friday will be the usual, with special focus on Alabama/Florida since that’s kind of a massive meet. It doesn’t look like there will be live streaming of the Michigan/Nebraska meet, which is a shame, so we’ll just have to keep ourselves warm with SEC action and the cozy glow of Kathy Johnson’s sigh of dismay. I’ll then be back on Saturday to get sloppy with Metroplex, which should be the amazing, competitive, crack-smokingly-scored meet we’ve come to know and love.

Friday
-We’ve got some serious showdowns headlining Friday in which the results are actually up in the air (!), so let’s get into it. Alabama and Florida is always a worthwhile experience, but with both teams at a point in the season where they’re still showing flashes of brilliance mixed with flashes of vulnerability, the outcome will probably be determined by which team can minimize those pesky January errors we’ve been seeing rather than which team is the most brilliantly, spectacularly amazing.

If both teams do end up hitting to their capabilities, give to edge to Florida for having shown higher scoring potential so far this year and (primarily) for being at home. Still, these teams are both at a level when even counting a 9.700 would change the outcome, let alone counting a fall, so there’s no margin for the Gators.
 

Florida’s clear advantage event is bars. The Gators devlier a much stronger lineup with several more 9.900-9.950s, while Alabama is more a 9.850 team because of scoring vulnerabilities like those double fronts. It’s unlikely that Alabama can keep pace with hit Sloan/Caquatto routines, so Florida will need and expect a lead at the halfway point. That’s especially especially true because I also give Florida the edge on vault, with bigger 1.5s (though Alabama should have more 1.5s—Beers, Brannan, Guerrero vs. Baker, Boren—which could mitigate that) and two of the best fulls in NCAA in Sloan and McMurtry, fulls that Alabama cannot match with its own. That advantage, however, is so dependent on the landings, and Florida is definitely not on stick patrol yet and giving up quite a bit there right now. If Alabama can land and minimize the two-event deficit to something around two tenths, we’ve got a real meet.

All eyes will be on Alabama’s beam after the catastrophe last weekend to see if it becomes a Georgia or not. Theoretically, I do think Alabama’s beam is stronger than Florida’s 1-6 with more pristine form and potential 9.9s, but of course, hitting. Florida has been better at hitting beam than any other team so far this year. If Alabama is to take the meet, winning beam is absolutely essential, especially because Florida ends on floor at home, a scoring situation that may counteract any lineup advantage Alabama may have on the event.

While Florida boasts the two strongest floor routines from either team in Baker and Sloan (especially in the absence of Carley Sims), Alabama has many, many more options for realistic 9.850-9.875 routines than Florida does and can use those early spots in the lineup to gain a floor edge. Much as Florida needs comparatively stronger bars scores 4-6, Alabama needs comparatively stronger floor scores 1-3.

-Simultaneous with this top-of-the-SEC showdown, there will be a top-of-the-Big-Ten showdown as Michigan visits Nebraska. Nebraska is slowly making strides from the disastrous first meet, with Blanske rounding into normal form, Sienna Crouse getting into some more lineups, and Schweihofer emerging as a valuable supporting player. That should make this meet more competitive than it may have seemed after, say, the first week. Still, Michigan will be expected to win and will be expected to get a 196.9, though the potential is certainly there to break 197 finally if it’s a good day for floor landings.

-Obviously, Georgia’s beam is a nightmare, so I’m sure we’re all eager to see that because whether it continues to be a train wreck or this is the week it pulls itself back together, it’s must-see acro-series TV. Weirdly, there’s a part of me that’s pretty optimistic about Georgia based on watching the team this season, in spite of all the 195s, because the other three events look seriously good and are improving. Once beam is worked out, and it will get worked out, Georgia will be legit.

-Another exceptionally competitive SEC showdown will be Auburn’s visit to Arkansas. These two teams look pretty evenly matched at this point, with Arkansas making an unexpected early run to challenge Auburn for the underdog SEC darling crown this season. It’s a tossup right now, though it’s critical that Auburn deal with the beam issues to come out with a win. Auburn should be a better bars and beam team than Arkansas, and while that has come to fruition on bars, Auburn has looked rather uncomfortable on beam and has not used the legitimate 9.900 potential of the Atkinson/Demers/Milliet trio to gain an advantage there.

Arkansas looks farther along and more prepared than Auburn through January, very fit and with a larger proportion of upperclassman competing compared to Auburn, still needing some time to bring the freshmen along. That preparation should give Arkansas an advantage on vault in spite of lacking the big 1.5 of an Atkinson. Arkansas’s vault landings have been more controlled, which has accounted for the stronger scores, so if this meet is decided by landings rather than mistakes, that favors Arkansas. Auburn, on the other hand, has higher scoring potential as a team and should be the better side come March/April, so if we see a progression from the last couple meets into something closer to mid-season form, Auburn will have an excellent shot at this one.

Saturday
-The bigly big big bigness on Saturday is the Metroplex Challenge, the annual bacchanalia of valuable away scores pitting a bunch of competitive teams against each other. In the most likely outcome, it will boil down to Oklahoma and LSU fighting for the win. Stanford has extremely impressive routines, but still lacks the competitive lineups on vault and floor to beat the likes of the very best teams. This will actually be a valuable test case for Stanford looking ahead to the postseason to see how those vaults and floor routines will be scored in front of the same judges who have just seen Oklahoma and LSU. Competing against power, it’s easier to give those Stanford floor routines 9.700s. Missouri has also started the season with a program renaissance, which will continue for a couple seasons as this is a very young group, but will be viewing this meet as a chance for a usable road score rather than comparing themselves to top-10 teams. That’s true for Washington as well.

As for Oklahoma and LSU, how do we think this will go? The rematch. It seems pretty evenly poised, and while both teams have made strides to develop their traditionally weaker areas over the last few seasons, this one looks like it’s going to come down to the old standby strengths. Oklahoma’s bars and beam up against LSU’s vault and floor.

The Sooners have had to shake things up on bars a little bit this season, but they’ve put together a pretty and capable lineup able to remain competitive in the early spots and throw out some very big scores in the Wofford spots, where Wofford goes. That’s the biggest asset Oklahoma has compared to LSU since LSU will still have to count on some Gnat and Savona routines. As for beam, it’s Oklahoma beam, and in spite of some unexpected fallsies early on, this rotation should score exceptionally well. LSU has the capability and gorgeousness to compete with Oklahoma’s beam and score just as well, but we haven’t seen that develop as yet. They’ve had to play around with the lineup, they’ve looked a little tentative, and we’re all still waiting to see the 9.950-a-thon that a Macadaeg, Hambrick, Finnegan show, co-starring Gnat, Priessman, and Ewing can deliver.

Similarly, just going the other direction, both teams have tremendous vaults, but if LSU is continuing to stick those 10.0 SVs (and rest assured that Gnat will get a 10 every time she sticks her DTY), it’s going to be tough for any team to keep pace. Still, floor is really where LSU will look to win this one with bigness. The first meet between these two teams came down to floor, with the teams exactly tied based on the other three events. LSU went 9.9-city while Oklahoma counted some 9.8s and didn’t have enough of an advantage from the other events to make that OK. The Tigers need that to happen again, whereas Oklahoma needs to develop enough advantage on the other events to ensure the meet doesn’t come down to which team’s floor rotation is the biggest and loudest. Based on the action we’ve seen since these two teams squared off in the first meet, Oklahoma has looked steadier and has shown more improvement and therefore should level the season series with this one, though it will be a battle. LSU needs big beam, Oklahoma needs big floor. Who’s going to get it?

Monday
Monday? Come on. The Pac-12 is going to Monday, with Utah and UCLA both competing in meets they should win. Utah suffered a massive setback during the week with Kari Lee going down to a torn Achilles. The only silver lining there is that it happened early enough that they will be able to snatch a redshirt for her for this season should she want it, but it’s devastating to Utah’s scoring potential. While Lee hadn’t been her 2015 self so far this year (especially in the leg-event department, so perhaps now we’re all realizing what was wrong…), she was the integral AAer on this roster. Time to scrounge for routines, but those routines are not going to be 9.9s, which hurts on every event and seriously tests this team’s depth. Arizona showed impressive improvement against UCLA, with tremendous potential on bars and beam, and will look to pounce on a shaken Utah that has to throw some new routines.

Nothing much has changed for UCLA since the first meet, the strengths are still beam and floor and the weaknesses are still vault and bars. Bars has been the most variable performance so far, looking much more impressive in the second meet against Florida than in the other two, so the next few meets will be interesting to start to gauge which one is the real UCLA and which one isn’t. Cal has started the season predominately as expected, mid 195s, strong on vault and floor, weaker on bars and beam, especially beam. Toni-Ann has been the scoring leader and strongest gymnast on the roster once again, but she’s a little 9.850s compared to her 9.900s from last season, and they’re going to need her to be not just the best gymnast on the team but one of the best gymnasts in the country to try to make that leap to the nationals-challening sides.

The Weekend Plans – January 22-24

Apparently, the east coast broke, so some of these teams will not be competing this weekend because they’re being preserved in ice for future archaeologists to find. George Washington is out of Saturday’s meet, but as of now, the meet is still expected to go ahead. Penn State was supposed to travel to Maryland, but that meet has been postponed because of “as if.”

Top 25 schedule + other notables

Friday, January 22
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [10] Arkansas @ [4] Alabama
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Iowa State, Arizona State @ [2] Oklahoma
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – [9] Georgia @ [14] Missouri
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – [3] Michigan @ [17] Illinois
8:30 ET/5:30 PT – [1] Florida @ [8] Auburn
8:30 ET/5:30 PT – [20] Kentucky @ [7] LSU
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – Utah State @ [23] Southern Utah
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – [13] Boise State, UC Davis @ BYU
Saturday, January 23
3:00 ET/12:00 PT – [5] UCLA @ Arizona
5:00 ET/2:00 PT – [11] Oregon State @ [6] Utah
6:00 ET/3:00 PT – *[12] George Washington, [15] New Hampshire, Temple @ Pittsburgh
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Rutgers @ [18] Nebraska
7:30 ET/4:30 PT – Michigan State @ [19] Minnesota
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Washington @ [16] Denver
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – [25] Ohio State @ Iowa
Sunday, January 24
1:00 ET/10:00 PT – [21] Eastern Michigan, Illinois State @ Ball State
5:00 ET/2:00 PT – [22] Cal, San Jose State @ [24] Stanford

Live blogging
I’ll be here live blogging all the Friday slop as usual—get all your devices and alternate monitors and time machines ready because there will be periods when you want to watch three meets at the same time—as well as UCLA/Arizona on Saturday (but not Oregon State/Utah, just a heads up).  

Friday
-Most of the top teams are getting their meets out of the way on Friday, with only the major Pac-12 sides holding out until the weekend. Though the result is in doubt for very few of these meets, many of these teams are coming off nasties of varying severity in their most recent showings, so there are a couple key rotations to watch. Yeah, I’m talking about Georgia’s beam. The SEC Network should definitely cut in to Florida/Auburn when Georgia is going on beam with a breaking news update because we all need to see that thing.

-The premier meet of the week is Florida’s visit to Auburn because it features the highest-ranked underdog and because I haven’t seen a full Auburn meet yet this season. My needs make things important. Florida is the heavy favorite in this one, with a fuller contingent of both starring 9.9s and supporting 9.8s that would have to thrown up a relative splatfest for Auburn to come out on top. The Gators turned in the strongest and most complete performance in the country so far this season in their last meet, though the scoring was crazy-pie, so part of the interest in this meet will be how similarly hit routines are scored away from home. It should be a better indicator of where Florida is at this point in the season.

Perhaps surprisingly, or not, the floor rotation is the biggest question for Florida so far this year, once again last weekend featuring three great routines and three weak routines. Bridgey will chug along and get into form eventually, but that is a lineup that looks a step behind where it could be given the quality of Baker, Sloan, and Boren. Right now, they’re just missing that DLO from Wang or piked full-in from Spicer, or even the 9.850 that Boyce could bring in the first spot to make this a complete and dominant lineup 1-6. For a championship side, everyone in the floor lineup should be a possible 9.900. We’ve seen Florida, Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, etc. do that recently, but that’s not the case for Florida right now. That wouldn’t be a real problem until Super Six, because this floor lineup is still great, but it’s something to keep in mind.

For Auburn, the first couple meets have been fine but not ideal. At this point, the team is still expecting to count some 9.7s and will need more time to develop routines from Krippner and Engler into 9.825-9.850 early-lineup options, rendering a 9.750 a drop-score rather than a phew-score. It will take more than a single January to get to that place, but those are the freshmen I’m watching with the biggest vulture-eyes in this meet. It has been encouraging to see Abby Milliet develop into a true and viable second-in-command to Atkinson on bars and beam (she even did floor last week). The question about Auburn this season is whether this will be a complete contending team or just the Caitlin Atkinson show, especially on bars and beam in the absence of Megan Walker. Milliet has already stepped up the quality from last year to fill that role.

-Let’s talk LSU and Georgia. Both teams had crazy scores going halfway through their most recent meets and then fell into the wood chipper never to be seen again. At the most basic level, this next meet is about…hitting beam. The situation is more serious for Georgia than for LSU because Georgia’s issue is a pattern rather than a single catastrophe, and it’s just getting worse. It’s also overshadowing what we’re seeing on the other events: the strongest vault rotation of any team so far this year (Monday against Stanford), improved floor fitness over this point last season, and a complete bars rotation that isn’t the weakness it seemed it might be without Davis and Brown. If beam comes together, this is a legitimate Super Six team, but beam has to come together.

Beam should be one of LSU’s best events and still will be as long as everyone stops losing her mind. Macadaeg, Hambrick, Finnegan? Come on. Don’t even start. The only thing standing between them and being a top-3 beam team is a case of the beautiful disasters, though one meet does not constitute a fully-fledged case of the beautiful disasters. Mostly, we learned from the Vegas meet that LSU is more dependent on Priessman and Kelley than it may have seemed at the very beginning. That’s perhaps a no-brainer, but the Tigers clearly missed those routines in Vegas and will need those scores. If one, both, or part of either is back this weekend, Florida’s nation-leading mark will be attainable.

-Alabama put on a show of floor depth during the double-meet weekend, marching about 75 people in and out of that lineup and getting competitive scores for all of them. Depth is Alabama’s best weapon this season and will serve them very well once things start to matter. They shouldn’t have too much trouble with Arkansas, although through the first couple weeks Arkansas has proven to be a more formidable and complete team than the roster seemed to suggest, one that has six competitive, minimum-9.750 routines on each event and is quite capable of 196s.

Saturday
-The Pac-12 takes over on Saturday, the showcase being Oregon State’s visit to Utah. In a gigantic twist, Oregon State is the Pac-12’s best vault team right now, which given historical precedent, is preposterous, but that’s the vaulting state of the Pac-12 right now. No Pac-12 team has even hit 49.200 through the first few weeks of the season. A lot of this comes down to difficulty, with the Pac-12 schools showing relatively few 10.0 vaults compared to their SEC peers, but the fulls we’ve seen so far have also not been remarkable enough to warrant high 9.8s. On Saturday, keep an eye on vault because all of these teams need to prove that they have multiple real 9.9s in their lineups, not just average fulls for 9.825s. Otherwise, it’s going to be an excruciatingly SEC season.

-Utah would be the favorite against Oregon State at either location, but that favorite status increases at home. The Utes could use a little traditional Utah boost after some lulls in the first couple meets. While Utah’s performances so far haven’t been outstanding, it’s clear that this will become a team that can low-mid 197 others into submission as the season progresses. The depletion of the floor lineup, however, has been quite evident early on. Floor won’t be the 9.9-a-thon of years past and the tumbling will not be as big, but Lee and Lewis need to come into their own to make this a competitive event instead of 13th in the country. It’s hard to challenge without at least 49.3s/49.4s on floor.

For the most part, Oregon State has been doing normal Oregon State things in the first couple meets. The Beavs will be in a position to pounce if Utah has to count a mistake, though the question from the preseason over where the 9.9s will come from remains, even stronger now without Aufiero this season and with Dani Dessaints mysteriously not competing last weekend. I haven’t seen one routine yet that looks like a sure 9.900+ every single time. 

-UCLA has started the season quite well, especially by the standard of “The Bruins Do 194s” that we have come to expect from time to time in January and February—when UCLA just has a beam crazy for no reason and then Valorie performs some extensive feelings about it. In general, the landings and endurance look pretty good for mid-January and improved over some recent years. The meet against Florida was more encouraging than the first because of the progression shown on bars, which now needs to be maintained and come to vault as well. With the downgrade, somewhat flat, medium-distance fulls are not going to cut it against teams like Georgia that are sticking multiple 1.5s.

The Yimettes had a horrible, three-beam-fall meet last weekend, one not remotely befitting the legacy of The Tabitha or Arizona’s ability and prettiness on beam. Like Georgia and LSU, but lower profile, The Fightin’ Arizonas need a comeback meet this weekend. They won’t beat a hit meet from UCLA and would have to rely on falls to win, but…let’s at least get back into the top 25, OK?

Sunday
-Cal heads to Stanford on Sunday for their second showdown already this season (why?) in a meet that no one will be able to see (why?). Cal beat Stanford the first time around, but Stanford showed some strides against Georgia by, you know, hitting and should feel more comfortable about their chances to win this one. Floor is still a big struggle, the bars lineup is incomplete, and vault is not at all competitive, but it’s getting better. Vault and floor are where Cal should have the advantage, with more believable 9.800s through the lineup, but achieving a second-straight smackdown of Stanford will hinge upon the ability to hit beam. Stanford can pretty anyone’s face off on beam, so Cal cannot afford to throw up another 48.5/48.6. That’s just too much to make up. Beam beam beam. The week of beam.

The Weekend Plans – January 15-18

Keep in mind that this is a super-extendo-weekend, beginning tonight and going through Monday, on which we fulfill the national tradition of celebrating the memory of Martin Luther King by bitching about vault landings. As he would have wanted. It’s a busy one, with many many teams forcing themselves into two meets in three days for some horrible reason.

Top 25 schedule + other notables

Thursday, January 14
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Yale @ [18] New Hampshire
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – [1] LSU vs. [23] NC State (Las Vegas, NV)
Friday, January 15
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [5] UCLA @ [3] Florida
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [14] Missouri @ [6] Alabama
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [12] Oregon State, Bridgeport, Illinois State, Wisconsin-Eau Claire @ Lindenwood
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – [11] Cal, Texas Woman’s @ [4] Oklahoma
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – [21] Kentucky @ [7] Auburn
8:30 ET/5:30 PT – [15] Georgia @ [16] Arkansas
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – [7] Utah @ Southern Utah
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – [16] Kent State @ Utah State
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – Boise State, Seattle Pacific @ UC Davis
Saturday, January 16
1:00 ET/10:00 PT – [19] Illinois @ Rutgers
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – Ohio State @ [1] Michigan
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – Nebraska @ Penn State
5:00 ET/2:00 PT – [25] Maryland @ [23] Minnesota
Sunday, January 17
1:00 ET/10:00 PT – [20] Eastern Michigan, Bowling Green @ Western Michigan
1:00 ET/10:00 PT – North Carolina, Penn, Cornell, Temple @ [7] George Washington
2:00 ET/11:00 PT – [10] Arizona @ Texas Woman’s
3:00 ET/12:00 PT – [4] Oklahoma @ [16] Arkansas
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – [6] Alabama vs. [7] Auburn (Birmingham, AL)
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – [18] New Hampshire @ West Virginia

Monday, January 18
2:00 ET/11:00 PT – [22] Stanford @ [15] Georgia
3:00 ET/12:00 PT – [13] Denver @ Iowa
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – Washington @ Arizona State

As always, the full schedule can be found at the link at the top.

Live blogging
I will definitely be here live blogging on Friday for UCLA/Florida and Georgia/Arkansas and on Monday for Stanford/Georgia. Other than that, it’s a maybe. So stay tuned, but don’t weep into your handkerchiefs if it doesn’t happen. Or do.

Friday
-The day starts with the big matchup, Florida and UCLA. UCLA will take relief from the win over Alabama, but beating Florida in Florida would be quite the little upset. For some reason, I don’t think Bridget Sloan is going to get stuck in the 9.8s again this weekend. Watching how Florida Scoring (TM) plays out in the post-Rhonda era should be one of the more interesting parts of the meet. Remember that time Florida got a 49.8 on floor? Ah, the memories.

The Gators were just OK in the opening meet, but even though it’s early, I think we all expect to see a real step forward this weekend, particularly on vault. As in, Alicia Boren is probably not going to fall again. I’m also eager to see how the vault and floor lineups develop in the coming weeks as they looked a little…unsettled in the opener, featuring a couple backup routines. That floor lineup needs the Bridgey anchor score this year much more than ever before since they may be throwing in two routines in the lower 9.8s. 

Really, if Florida was able to go 196.825 last weekend when hitting just one of four events at an expected level, a serious 197 must be the task on Friday.

-This weekend, UCLA should be happy with replicating the beam and floor performances from the first week. Floor won’t score the same on the road, but if the Bruins compete those two events at a similar level, that should be enough to earn an early road 196 to rest on. Beam remains the team’s best event, the only potential weakness being an attack from the inconsistency monster, so finishing on beam in front of a bigger road crowd cheering some (presumably) giant floor scores this week will be a valuable and necessary challenge. While Florida also scored well on beam in the first meet, this is the one event where the Bruins are the stronger side, so they’ll have to take advantage.

But if UCLA is to have a real chance at winning this meet, and at not being a depressing ghoulish phantasm this season, bars cannot be as bleak as it was in the opener. The primary concern for UCLA’s bars is that many of the deductions we saw on Sunday were built-in, but that’s definitely not true of all of them. Real hits from Ohashi and Metcalf would go a long way to making the lineup look a bit more healthy.

This is also UCLA. Miss Val is not afraid of some good, old-fashioned lineup experimentation. Those 48s on vault and bars from last week are not going to cut it against Florida, so let’s see what else is out there. Bring on exploring depth. It can’t hurt. Unless it does. 

-Alabama, Oklahoma, and Utah should all go through comfortably on Friday, though the trends in vault scoring will be worth watching in all three of those meets. Alabama needs to step up the performance more than anything else, but Oklahoma and Utah both played it relatively safe with vault choices in the first week and did not score nearly as well as we would normally expect from those teams. I’ll be checking for whether that 9.825ish trend continues and whether they choose to make an adjustment and throw more difficulty to get the scores.  

-Keep an eye on Auburn’s freshmen. They contributed plenty of routines in the first meet but not many significant scores. They’re more talented than that and will have to be more than just early-lineup/depthy options this year for Auburn to keep up, so let’s see if anyone jumps up into the 9.850s for meet two. 

-Georgia goes to Arkansas with a serious point to prove that this year is not going to be like last year when it comes to beam. The first meet was not remotely encouraging on that score, and the beam-bads cannot start to be a thing again. Two meets makes it a thing. While event is never a must-hit in January, it would be huge for Georgia’s mental game to come back with six not-bad beam routines right away. And it’s going to be necessary. Arkansas is famous for low-196ing a tentative opponent into submission for the upset, and that’s exactly what Arkansas team would have scored in Cancun for a hit meet. The capability is there.

Saturday
-In spite of the rankings, the most important meet on Saturday is Nebraska/Penn State since both teams died of consistency in their openers and dropped all the way out of the top 25. It’s way, way, way early, but being unranked is sort of unacceptable for a Nebraska team. Some of the problems were just weirdness, like Hollie Blanske having her worst meet ever, but some of them were also incomplete/non-competitive lineups featuring backups that put too much pressure on the main scorers to deliver.

-Michigan hasn’t shown a glaring issue in either of the meets so far, so there’s no reason to doubt that this will be another “our consistency is coming for you” season. Although it is two 196.9s in a row now, so let’s see a little bit of cleaning and refinement to get that 197. No need to stagnate here.

Sunday
-Oklahoma, Alabama, Auburn, and Arkansas will all compete in their second meets of the weekend on Sunday. Auburn and Alabama are conducting their (what is now) annual Birmingham “no one’s broadcasting this” meet, which is just great. Fun for the whole no one. At least Oklahoma/Arkansas will be on SECN+. It’s hard to know what to watch for in these meets at this point since we haven’t seen the Friday meets yet. We’ll see how the first one goes. Oklahoma is a pretty heavy favorite and should be able to waltz through with a hit, though Auburn and Alabama looks like an excellent showdown. Alabama is the better team on paper, and an ideal performance would see them winning every event, but the problems against UCLA betray a team that isn’t necessarily just a week away from dominance. The opportunity is be there for Auburn to snatch it. 

Monday
-Perhaps my most anticipated meet of the weekend is Stanford/Georgia because…who the hell knows with this one. It’s going to be beautiful. It may be a disaster. Stay tuned. Given Georgia’s depth compared to Stanford’s not-that-even-a-little, Georgia should be able to pull this one out comfortably. Although, based on what we saw in the first meet from both teams, Stanford looks quite capable of winning bars and beam even though it’s January before they’ve really started trying. The problem for Stanford comes from being too depleted on vault and floor to expect to keep the meet close enough to be able pounce on bars and beam, even with the undeniable power of Ebee. If Stanford is still throwing up a Ylayout and some 9.6s on floor, the deficit will just be too great, even with 9.9s on bars and beam. 

The Weekend Plans – January 8-10

It’s here! Wait, how do we do this again?

Top 25 Schedule

Friday, January 8
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Ball State @ [21] Kentucky
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [25] Central Michigan, UW-Whitewater, Winona State @ UW-Eau Claire
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – [2] Florida @ Texas Woman’s
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – BYU @ [4] Utah
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Michigan State @ [18] Arizona
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – [15] Illinois @ [23] Missouri
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – [11]Nebraska, Bowling Green @ Arizona State
Saturday, January 9
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – [9] Georgia @ [7] Michigan
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – NC State @ [17] Penn State
5:00 ET/2:00 PT – [1] Oklahoma @ [5] LSU
7:30 ET/4:30 PT – Iowa State @ [20] Minnesota
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – [24] Southern Utah, West Virginia @ [16] Denver
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – [22] Ohio State @ Washington
Sunday, January 10
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – [23] Missouri @ Lindenwood
5:00 ET/2:00 PT – [3] Alabama @ [6] UCLA
5:00 ET/2:00 PT – Nor Cal Classic ([8] Stanford, [14] Cal, UC Davis. Sacramento State @ San Jose State)
5:00 ET/2:00 PT – [10] Auburn @ [12] Oregon State
As always, the full schedule is available at the link at the top. Note that Arkansas and Boise State will not be competing this weekend. 
FRIDAY
-Let the live blogging begin! I’ll be here from the start, though there aren’t any really enticing matchups on Friday (you’re not even trying…), so I’ll probably bop around from meet to meet, missing everything important. I do want to make sure to watch a fair chunk of Nebraska since we rarely get to see Nebraska during the season. Florida against TWU will be broadcast on Aunt Flogymnastics, so those of you watching it are required to provide updates of honesty in the comments. You have your mission.

-For Florida, this will be a very comfortable win, but as I mentioned in the preview, I’m looking forward to seeing the lineup strategy. I’ll also be interested to find out where Peyton Ernst is at this point, how Alicia Boren does in her debut given how important she is to the team this year, and how many 10s Bridget Sloan gets. Over/under?

-There’s a little less mystery about Utah because we saw them at the RRP and they diligently release their lineups a million days in advance. This too will be an easy-peasy meet, but we’ve got a lot of event debuts (Lee and Schwab on bars, Merrell and Partyka on beam and floor), which is always reason for a keen eye. Bars and floor are the most depleted since last season, so watch for stuck-at-9.825-itis, though that may be expected to some degree this early in the season. But, is there potential to go much higher?

-Speaking of depleted, Nebraska has a bunch of empty spots in these lineups, and depth will be a major storyline this season. I’m hoping to see as many different freshmen as possible competing to give the team more options than I currently think there are. Let’s not make this not a six-AAers kind of season since that is the most nerve-wracking thing in the world. Someone find the bubble wrap. I’m also interested to see how Arizona State fills out these lineups, as in, can they? There are almost four people on the roster this season, but might it be a little less depressing than last year? A little?

 SATURDAY

 -Now that’s more like it. We’ve got two fairly huge meets on Saturday, which overlap because, once again, pull it together everyone. 
-Georgia travels to Michigan to open the season, and this will be the first meet of the year that actually has an uncertain outcome. Michigan does enter as the favorite, however, competing at home and coming off an impressive first meet for a team that was in so many pieces so recently, but it’s not open and shut. As we know, the Wolverines are still not a deep team and will need the exact competitors they showed in Cancun to be competitive with the best teams in the country this year. But now, after the Cancun success, it’s 197 or bust. Anything less is a regression. 
As of this point, Michigan’s strengths compared to Georgia look to be beam and floor given the troubles Georgia had on those events last season. The most important things the Gymdogs need to show in this first meet are a reborn, not-horrifying beam lineup (I’m hoping to see Cherrey and Jay and Schick among the new options to give this lineup some pop) and improved floor endurance versus this point last year. If they can prove those two events are under control, it will minimize any advantage Michigan might have in the second half of the meet. Georgia’s asset should be vault because of Jay and Rogers, though both teams are showing a solid number of 10.0 SVs. While bars will be very different for Georgia this season, for now at least the old story remains that Georgia needs a lead at the halfway point to have a chance. Please change the narrative, beam.
-The main event of the day, however, will be Oklahoma and LSU. Yikes. Showdown. I’m already excited. Nothing like starting the season by heading to LSU to test your mettle as the #1 team in the country. This should be an exceptionally high-quality meet, even in the first week of the season. LSU already looked in form at the preseason showcase, and Oklahoma always starts exceptionally prepared. I’m ready for both of these teams to hit 197 right off the bat, and I don’t think that’s a difficult accomplishment or expectation. 
Depending on who LSU has available, these teams are pretty well-matched on vault and floor. LSU has the bigger routines 1-6, so give the Tigers perhaps a slight advantage but not enough to be decisive or conclusive as a prognosticator. It could go either way. The real challenge for LSU, this season and always, will be proving the equal of a team like Oklahoma on bars and beam. Oklahoma is going through its own little reinvention on those events, so checking how those lineups match up to those of the past couple seasons will be interesting. Still, bars and beam are Oklahoma’s events. It would be surprising to see any actual weakness there. LSU has a wildly, wildly talented crop of beam workers, but one that is unproven and without rock-solid lineup saviors. They’ll be thrown into the fire right away by having to keep pace with the storied Oklahoma beam, but that’s what it will take to win the meet. 
SUNDAY
-Sunday also brings its share of fun with a 5 ET/2 PT triple-header of serious meets. For reference, I’ll be back for day three of the live blogging weekend for Alabama/UCLA, so if you’re watching either of the others instead, keep the rest of us posted. 
-Though UCLA is at home, which always helps, the Bruins are not exactly known for starting quickly or being at top form in January, so Alabama has more on the line as the team that really should win. Much is expected of Kiana Winston (by me), so we’ll have to see how she looks since her cameo last season doesn’t really count. Winston is especially significant with Lauren Beers coming off preseason surgery, meaning she may not be normal four-9.900s Lauren Beers right from the start. 
The vault decisions will be fascinating. Alabama has a number of 1.5 options, but we’ll have to see how many of them come to fruition right away, while UCLA has some work to do to keep pace while lacking the same pedigree of huge vaults. Paging Pua Hall. For the Bruins, this meet is all about Ohashi watch. Without Peszek and with Peng limited, they need a star to step up, and Ohashi is the nominee. That’s particularly true in this meet because if UCLA is going to win, it will be with beam loveliness since I do expect Alabama to be farther along and show more difficulty on vault and floor. UCLA’s beam should be exceptionally fantastic this year (though Alabama’s will be no slouch), and it would be really disheartening to see one of those UCLA January three-fall meets in such an significant showdown. 
-Last season, Stanford started with not enough people to compete, so the goal this time is…enough people to compete. I have no expectations for Stanford early in the season because we won’t see real Stanford until, oh, mid-March (that’s pretty true for UCLA too), but gauging depth of scores, at least six potential competitive scores on each event, will be the major factor here. A prepared and solid Cal will smell blood again this season. 
-Auburn/Oregon State may feel like the ugly duckling of the day since so much attention will be on UCLA and Alabama, but that should be a pretty competitive meet itself. Auburn has multiple new routines to try out, so we’ll have to see if this group looks like one that might become a Super Six team again in a few months. Or is it going to be a case of Caitlin Atkinson and her interns like it was in 2014? To tally the upset, Oregon State must show who besides Maddie Gardiner is ready to compete with top-10 teams. It’s the old refrain: where are the 9.9s? Right now, Auburn looks to have more of them because of Atkinson, and while it doesn’t necessarily take 9.9s to win in January, the location of the 9.9s is a serious mystery the Beavs have to solve this season. It would be nice to see at least the larval stages of a few of them.