December 30, 2013

#3 Oklahoma Preview

Being ranked preseason #3 is a symbolically important step for the Oklahoma Sooners because it indicates that they have finally graduated from that best-of-the-rest status that saw them continually ranked #4 and viewed only as a spoiler to the big-name teams. They've now arrived, using another second place finish at Championships to break into the highest echelon.

Oklahoma was the most consistent team at Championships last year, the only one to avoid any scoring disasters, and probably ended up being a couple stuck vaults away from winning the title. Still, they needed a Florida beamtastrophe to be that close, so if they're hoping to do better than 2nd this year, they'll have to step up the scoring potential in key places, and that's just what this freshman class provides. While the team will certainly miss Brie Olson's significant contributions, McKenzie Wofford, Charity Jones, and Chayse Capps provide a net boost to fill in some of the areas that haven't previously measured up to the Floridas and Alabamas of the world. The Sooners have graduated from that spoiler status because this is the first year they have a team that can make a legitimate case of being a favorite that can win the title outright.

The reputation question looms over everything in this sport because it all comes down to judges' perceptions, and this reputation topic seems to surround discussions of Oklahoma's gymnastics far more than any other team. Does Oklahoma have the reputation to win? Ugh, I've decided I'm done with that tired line of reasoning. Issues of reputation are often overstated in NCAA gymnastics in how much they actually influence results, and I've been guilty of that. Oklahoma is getting 198s at home, has had years of top-three finishes and massive scores at Nationals, and enjoys huge adoration within the gymnastics community. Oh, to have such little reputation. I promise I will not use the words "reputation" and "Oklahoma" in the same sentence again this season. Call me on it if I do.


Oklahoma received some very high scores on vault at home last season, occasionally misleadingly high, that produced a few unrealistic expectations for their capabilities as a vaulting team. The Sooners were a solid 49.350, give or take some sticks, but they were not really a 49.500 team. Keeping pace with the best teams on vault was always going to be one of the bigger challenges, as it has been for several seasons.

December 28, 2013

#4 UCLA Preview

UCLA had to be disappointed with finishing 4th at a home Championship last year, especially when the preseason outlook was so promising, but considering the injury trials presented to them throughout the season, managing a 4th place finish was a solid result. Without Peszek, without Lee, without Larson, the Bruins got as much as they could from the lineup they had, squeezing out every last drop of depth they could muster. They just didn't have enough big routines to contend for a win. 

Expect the 2014 team to be nearly unrecognizable from the group we saw last season. Whereas for most teams we're talking about filling one or two holes per event, UCLA has to reconstruct a full half of its lineup. Challengingly, it's not just about finding routines that can work in competition, it's about finding the 9.9s to fill the colossal absence of Vanessa Zamarripa. That's why Sam Peszek's return is so vital. She's the one who can step into those lineup spots and get the 9.9s on every event to help this team keep pace with last season. Especially without the Peng, it will fall to Peszek to be the star every week. 

UCLA is bringing in a hearty freshman class with Jennifer Pinches, Hallie Mossett, Angi Cipra, and Mikaela Gerber, but because there are so many openings in these lineups and because UCLA is perpetually recovering from sixty-five injuries, don't expect the depth problems we saw last year on events like vault to dissipate. It's going to be one of those UCLA journey seasons again, with a lot of life lessons, equal parts beautiful and frustrating. 


Vault was always going to be strange this year without Zamarripa. She is the team's identity on this event, so vault rotations are going to feel incomplete or incorrect for a while without her Yurchenko full because we are so used to that one spectacular piece of gymnastics finishing off the rotation and, especially last year, saving an adequate score. From the 2013 lineup, the Bruins are returning Olivia Courtney, a tube of chapstick, and a piece of damp construction paper. There's little to go on. This is where the depth and injury concerns were most apparent last season, and the team may not exactly be flush with vault choices again in 2014. For other teams, we're talking about 8 and 9 solid options and scores in the 49.4s and 49.5s, but for UCLA it's a little bit of, who's on this team now? And does she vault?

December 27, 2013

#5 LSU Preview

LSU enters 2014 still basking in one of the all-time best years for the program in 2013 during which the Tigers spent the regular season beating perennial favorites and matching or nearly matching the scores from the top teams in the country. They reached Super Six without much fuss or worry at all and came in as a potential dark horse for the title. In fact, had they vaulted up to the potential they had shown throughout the season, they could have finished as a high as second, which would have been a complete coup for the program.

While no one will deny that vault and floor rather unsurprisingly made up a significant portion of the path to success, bars began to come into line last season with the team breaking 49.4 on the event for the first time since 2009. Progressing on weaknesses was one of the most encouraging aspects of LSU's 2013, as was the fact that they did so with significant underclassman contribution. There are a couple holes to fill on beam this year, but other than that, the team has lost little and will look for opportunities to shore up lineups and leapfrog last year's quality. A big potential leapfrogger will be freshman Ashleigh Gnat who comes in as one of the top L10 recruits in the country and can factor in the AA, including breaking into those already deep vault and floor lineups.

Judging by the team the Tigers have put together, they are fully capable or repeating last year's scores and results. They just aren't losing enough gymnasts to expect any significant regression, but it will be interesting to watch if the upward trajectory established on bars and beam continues or plateaus this season.


It's LSU and vault. This team has more power and options than it knows what to do with. For most of the teams previewed so far, I've been judging vault on the potential to go 49.400, which lately has been the standard separating the competitive vaulting teams from the uncompetitive ones. In the case of LSU, however, we can look higher than that. This team is certainly capable of repeating as #1 on vault, and we can expect 49.5s from time to time this year.

December 26, 2013

#6 Utah Preview

The 2013 season was ultimately a disappointing one for Utah. While a final placement of 9th isn't exactly a shameful finish all things considered, it is the worst in the school's NCAA history, so I think that counts as a discouraging result. Of course, if you're Utah, you take pride in the fact that you've never finished lower than 9th, which no other school can claim, rather than depression that the record used to be 7th. Regardless of how much silver lining you try to weave, however, 2013 won't be a year for the memory banks. 

Yet, there is every reason to believe this team will improve its lot in 2014. Of primary importance is the fact that they lost no seniors at the end of last season, providing the luxury of staying with what has worked and trading in what hasn't for shinier, more impressive models (presenting, Beam Rotation 2.0, now with more hitting!) There is no need to work against the loss of important routines, which is quite the enviable position. The injury returners Corrie Lothrop and Kailah Delaney, and freshman Baely Rowe, can simply be slotted in wherever they can boost the team's scoring potential.

This increase in options was apparent at the Red Rocks preview, though I should mention that I missed the second half of it. I was entirely unconcerned about this breach of NCAA fandom because, well, it's Utah. All the routines will obviously be up on youtube before I even have time to frown, right? But no, only vault and bars are up, the events I already saw. What is this, Marsden? I don't even think I know you anymore. As a result, my beam and floor awareness is a little less defined than it might have been otherwise, but we'll endure somehow. Let's dive in.


Vault was a little bit all over the place for Utah last year. It often provided a strong score into the 49.4s, but the early half of the lineup also suffered from amplitude and secure-landing issues that were not always apparent in the team score because Tory Wilson and Georgia Dabritz would save a strong overall number with their 9.9s. As for Tory Wilson, the girl can land a vault, and when she sticks, she'll be minimum 9.900 and in contention for 9.950s. Dabritz is never far behind her in 9.9 land, but crucially Dabritz and Wilson may have to do less lineup saving this year because they'll be rejoined in the back of the rotation by Kailah Delaney, who was getting 9.9s every week during her freshman season. The introduction of a third likely 9.9er means that team scores greater than 49.4 seem exceptionally attainable, even with 9.825-9.850s from the first three gymnasts.

December 24, 2013

#7 Michigan Preview

After the depressing, injury-plagued slog that was the 2012 season, Michigan's 2013 saw a return to form for a team that should easily be top 10 in the nation every season. In fact, the Wolverines wholly exceeded expectations last year. I was optimistic that they would return to Nationals in comfortable fashion, but they came quite close to making Super Six and, in the much tougher semifinal, would have been right in it with UCLA and Oklahoma for those last spots if not for a rough beam adventure (and we'll get there in a minute).

Eight routines from Zurales, Martinez, and Colbert have been lost since last year, and we can expect newcomers Talia Chiarelli and Nicole Artz to step into most of those roles, competing on a couple events each. Bev Plocki has also been touting increased contribution from Austin Sheppard this season to fill a few of those eight openings as well. When Brooke Parker transferred from Alabama, it appeared she was actually going to get to compete now, but at least so far she has been right back in the "great depth for our team" category.

Michigan in 2014 is still on the smaller side, relying on a few key stars, but most of the team members are believable on multiple events, so they can still be 9 and 10 deep on a couple of the apparatuses and shouldn't have to struggle to find enough 9.8 routines in the way we have seen at times over the last couple years. Much of that depth comes from the big senior class, which occasionally makes up half of the event lineups, so there is some urgency for this team to do something special this season while they still can. Let's explore a bit further.


Vault was regularly very impressive for Michigan last year, the prime area that carried them to momentary #1 and put them consistently in the top 5. The Wolverines finished the year ranked #4 on vault as the top non-SEC team.

The scoring leaders were Joanna Sampson and Austin Sheppard, who both brought in frequent 9.9s with huge power and height on their yfulls, and we can expect them to be 5th and 6th in the lineup this year for similar scores. Sachi Sugiyama is a bit more frequently down in the 9.825 area than the other two because the landing on the 1.5 can be so much more challenging, but she is also a great vaulter who can and will get 9.900 at times during the season. Natalie Beilstein is the fourth I'm mentioning, but she would be anchoring many teams. Ditto about the landing on the 1.5. Nonetheless, for all four of these vaulters, 9.850 is a weak score. They will each expect much better than that every time out and can lead the team to 49.400. 

December 23, 2013

#8 Georgia Preview

Big applause for Elizabeth Grimsley for putting together this intrasquad highlight video, including athlete IDs.

The first year of the Durante era must be deemed an unqualified success. The 2013 season was all about returning to Super Six for the first time P.S. (Post Suzanne), and the team accomplished that goal comfortably. They weren't strong enough to finish higher than 6th (and some downright weird scores in S6 didn't help anything), but they made it there. Durante also managed to squeeze career-best seasons out of Christa Tanella and Shayla Worley, both of whom I had certainly already written off, and got the team performing up to the potential of its roster in a way it hadn't done in years.

Now comes challenge #2: Maintaining the same level when the smart money says a sophomore slump is coming. The team has lost Worley, Tanella, and Noel Couch, a class with a high pedigree (even if it didn't always show), and is now bringing in an unheralded collection of Level 10s with far, far less expected of them. Losing some scoring potential compared to last year seems likely, at least on paper, so finding a way to get the same quality of out this group will be the goal of the season and will define not only the course of 2014 but potentially the years to come. As we learned during the recent verbal exodus, Georgia will not be getting too many big-name elites any time soon, so getting top scores out this kind of class will be Georgia's route to success in the near future.


The silver lining of the fact that Worley and Tanella weren't getting anywhere near vault even if it were made of Championships, and that Couch was off the event most of last season with injury, is that the vault lineup from 2013 remains almost entirely intact. We should see very little fluctuation in either the competition order or the scoring. The team's RQS last season was exactly 49.400, and with the excellence of Rogers, Cheek, and Jay vaulting at the end of that lineup again, something around 49.4s should be very attainable again this year.

December 22, 2013

#9 Stanford Preview

I mentioned in my preseason rankings that if Stanford is able to meet the potential of its roster in 2014, #9 is a very soft projection, and I stand by that statement. The ceiling for this team is quite a bit higher, and they have every opportunity to be much stronger in 2014 than in 2013. In 2013, Stanford met expectations by making Nationals but went out on a depressing note after an Ivana Hong injury followed by woeful bars and beam rotations.

Speaking of Hong, the official Ivana Hong color-coded injury alert system is perpetually in the  yellow range, verging on ocher, but in the aftermath of her nasty Semifinal knee injury last year, she's up to burnt umber. Do we know what's going on with her now? This is NCAA, where some teams guard information about serious injuries like its a matter of national security, so it's always hard to tell where gymnasts stand (if they can). Usually we just have to check people's twitter accounts, and when they suddenly start retweeting a lot of quotes about perseverance and heart, we know everything has gone wrong. For the purpose of this preview, I'm including Ivana Hong in these events because I haven't heard otherwise. Innocent until proven guilty, or something like that. 

Fortunately, Stanford fans no longer have to pretend that Hong, Shapiro, and Vaculik will all be healthy and hitting for 9.9s at the same time in order to trick themselves to sleep at night. There are big-potential freshmen worth getting excited about this year, especially because this new crop is a powerful collection that should renovate the lineups on vault and floor and prop up a few of Stanford's weak areas. We could see all-around contribution from Rachel Daum, Nicolette McNair, and possibly Sophia Lee (though we haven't seen anything from her since 2012, so it's harder to judge). Here we go.


Without top vaulter Nicole Dayton, Stanford's returning vault lineup would primarily consist of a couple yfulls for 9.825s, making it all but impossible to contend with those power vaulting 49.500 teams, which is why we can expect the largest influx of freshman routines on this event. That should be the biggest signpost as to how well Stanford is doing on vault this year. The more freshmen making it into the lineup, the better off they will be.

Rachel Daum competed a high-scoring Y1.5 in JO and certainly has the power to own a full, and speaking of owning a full, Nicolette McNair should do just that and figure near the end of the lineup as well. Her sister, Danielle, is the less heralded of the McNairs, but vault is the event on which she is most likely to appear. As mentioned, we haven't seen as much from Sophia Lee lately, but she always had a handy yfull as well. The team is getting new life on vault this year, and we could see all four of these freshmen in the rotation.

December 20, 2013

#10 Nebraska Preview

In 2013, Nebraska and Oregon State taught us the valuable lesson that winning a conference championship is the worst. Teams, you really shouldn't bother. Nebraska scored a 250 million at Big Tens (or, as you're supposed to write, B10s, but then you'd have to spontaneously melt out of shame), yet when it came to Regionals, they imploded on three of four events to get edged by Illinois in the most exciting rotation of the season. Illinois finished on beam needing a 49.050 to make Nationals after Nebraska killed vault, and they kept getting 9.750, 9.800, 9.800. Ack, it was so close. It's the wonder of NCAA gymnastics, and the main thing I emphasize when talking up this sport. On amazing days like Regionals, you may never have seen one iota of Illinois gymnastics before, but you'll suddenly end up caring more about their beam rotation than you do about the Olympics. I promise. (Now we just need to find a way to inject that feeling into the regular season.)  

For the Huskers in 2014, it's a season of redemption. They were way too talented to miss Nationals last year, and they need to prove it this year by erasing that result. They certainly should be capable of doing so. While Nebraska is once again a small team, it's hopefully a healthier team, which should boost some of the rotations. With both Ariel Martin and Jordyn Beck returning as redshirt freshmen to join this year's new class, it's a bit like Nebraska is getting two classes full of freshmen, which should help infuse these lineups with new potential to back up the stars, Emily Wong and Jessie DeZiel.

But because the team basically has two new classes, only six of the twelve current members have ever competed routines before, which is a little unnerving because there are few proven options. Nothing says you need proven options, but we've seen so little from the unproven ones that there's nothing to go on as of yet, especially because Nebraska is one of the teams we often know the least about given the dearth of preseason videos and broadcast meets. But we must manage somehow. 


In case you haven't heard, Nebraska can vault a little bit. This team gets tremendous blocks and distance on their vaults, and once they pick up steam with those landings at the end of the season, can vault with any team in the country. This is a huge asset because, even if the other events are a little rough, vault can salvage an adequate score (as it almost did at Regionals—they could have overcome two weak events, but not three).

December 18, 2013

#11 Arkansas Preview

Katherine Grable runs this town. That's all there is to it. If Arkansas is going to have a successful 2014 and make Nationals, it will be on the strength of Grable's 39.675s in the AA. She's capable of saving rotations with 9.950s and making those events seem suddenly good even though everyone else got a 2. Recall last season that she was out of the lineup for one meet, and the team scored a 193. Don't do that again. She's a senior this year, so the Razorbacks need to take advantage of what she brings while they still have the chance.

Unfortunately, Grable cannot compete in every spot in the lineup, so there must be a healthy supply of 9.850s, with a couple 9.9s here and there alongside her, if Arkansas is to stand a chance of matching last year's Nationals performance and being somewhat competitive with the schools that comfortably score 197. A bunch of these 49.100 rotations will not cut it. The notable freshmen, Amanda Wellick and Samantha Nelson, should help make up for the losses of Amy Borsellino and Kelci Lewis, and expect them to slot into many of those same lineup spots. They'll need to do so if Arkansas is to continue with the high 196s from the end of last season because the team doesn't have a plethora of options on a few of these events. Depth will be the watchword. Let's break it down.


So, get this. Katherine Grable does a vault, and it's not a Yurchenko full. I know! Her Pod (round-off 1/2 on, pike 1/2) makes the world a better place and is one of those routines that should be regularly 9.9 and can get 9.950s. Arkansas often had trouble getting six vaults out there last season, but her score still allowed them to scrape a 49.2.

December 15, 2013

#12 Oregon State Preview

We have the coaches poll, we have our intrasquad videos, we have everything we need to be ready for the season to begin. So, all that remains now is to put together team previews. Over the next couple weeks, I'll be going through each of the teams in the top 12 of the coaches poll, walking through every event and giving some overall impressions of what to expect this season.

For Oregon State, it was the days of being high and low in 2013. The Beavs began the year with a shocking performance in Cancun that seemed to confirm all of the fears we observers had for them going into the season, but by March they had willed themselves into becoming a 197 team. They were the only team to show up at Pac-12s ready to hit and cruised to a title. But then, in the span of about ten minutes, all that hope came crashing to the ground like so many busted DLOs when three falls on bars obliterated their season in the first rotation of Regionals.

Oregon State was probably the 8th or 9th best team in the country last year all things considered, and the nasty taste of that Regionals performance partially accounts for why both the coaches and I put them down at #12 for the moment, but much of my trepidation also comes from this being a second straight year of losing two top gymnasts. The old guard (Leslie Mak, Olivia Vivian, Makayla Stambaugh, Melanie Jones, and even Laura-Ann Chong and Mandi Rodriguez if we want to go back a little farther), the group that made a national impact and that we associate with the recent strength of Oregon State, is officially gone.

In its place, we're left with a returning squad of supporting actresses, a gaggle of 9.850s, and much of Oregon State's story in 2014 will be a journey to find those leading ladies again. Keep a close eye on how the freshmen are contributing in the early months, because this year's big, talented incoming class provides the opportunity for rebirth and for new stars to emerge. We won't really know how well OSU can do this year until we see what they bring.


The fortune of fortunes for the Beavers on vault is Kelsi Blalock being granted a 5th year. She is the star vaulter for this team and the only consistently huge score among the returning gymnasts. She gets excellent distance on her yfull, and while a slight pike at the end is the main thing keeping her from 10s, she sticks well, so the 9.950s should come and 9.900 should be the expectation.

December 12, 2013

2014 Preseason Coaches Poll

The 2014 Coaches Poll is finally here. LINK

Overall, it's a bit of a letdown. I always look forward to its crazy choices, but this poll is completely realistic and makes a lot of sense. Maybe I just think that because these rankings are exceptionally similar to mine. Coaches, have you been copying again?

A few reflections:

December 10, 2013

The Latest from Michigan, Oklahoma, and UCLA

Over the weekend, a few top teams displayed their wares to adoring crowds of dozens, and like the timely person I am, I'm now getting around to summing up what happened.

Michigan held an exhibition meet against Central Michigan, complete with live video, commentary, and live scoring. It was a bit like the season had come early, and I was altogether too excited by that. When I do the team previews, I'll go into more depth about how the lineups look on each event, but for now let's talk about floor because it was the clear highlight. The team showed eight routines, as most do in these preseason meets, and all eight mounted with E skills and showed a very high level of tumbling overall. The six competition routines could certainly be the final lineup, and there were fewer endurance issues than I expected.

Vault and bars looked pretty impressive for this point in the season as well, with seven good lineup contenders on each event (seven isn't ideal, but it's workable). In the training videos, Austin Sheppard has been an unexpected bars highlight. Here, she went over on her straddle back and had to correct and cowboyed her double front, but the piked tkatchev was huge and the potential is there. Beam was the worry, surprising no one, with some seriously wobbly performances, which was reflected in the scores. Still, it's just December. The big positive on beam, however, was Talia Chiarelli, who performed the most secure routine of the eight competitors and worked with a confidence we never saw from her on this event as an elite. I was very concerned about her on beam, so this was pleasing to see. Let's hope she's one of those gymnasts who gains confidence as the more difficult elite skills are removed from her routine.

With the exception of Briley Casanova, who has been out with concussion issues, all of the returning gymnasts from last season look like strong bets to make their events again. Brooke Parker also appeared, exhibitioning on two events like she's right back at Alabama.

In other news, Double Front has a whole mess of videos from Oklahoma's intrasquad for your perusal. Event winners were Kmieciak on vault, Spears on bars, Mooring and Clark on beam, and Spears on floor.

December 7, 2013

Land of the Rising Scores

You know that rainy Saturday feeling when you just want to put on your floor exercise music Pandora station and kick back with some data entry? No? Anyone? OK. Deal with it anyway.

I've addressed the trend of drastically rising scores in NCAA before (at least weekly), but this should be a somewhat more complete assessment. For each of the last 15 years of NCAA competition, I averaged the team scores of the top 36 teams (regular season) to arrive at a single number to indicate the average score for that season, at least for the higher-level teams. Knowing as I do how much you all love graphs, I have plotted them to display the results:

The 2004 season is still unparalleled in being the land of 198s, but as is made obvious in the scores, a significant adjustment was made after that season. It has been a gradual ascent, but scores have now all but returned to the levels from 2004, with 2013 ranking as the second-highest scoring season of the last 15. What's been happening over the last couple of years interests me the most since it's happening right now, so let's focus specifically on that chunk of the graph:

December 6, 2013

Intrasquad Week Schedule

Over the next week or so, NCAA teams will be conducting their various public scrimmages and preseason showcases, and we will all use every morsel of them to make wildly sweeping conclusions about the upcoming season. Yay, December!

While a few stellar programs are going to stream their previews, seeing the action from most of these intrasquads will require being there in person (and who would ever want to go anywhere?) Still, we can anticipate post-showcase videos regardless, and that's really what we're looking for. Here's the rundown.

Friday, December 6th
7:00pm PT – Oregon State Orange and Black Exhibition

Saturday, December 7th
4:00pm CT – Oklahoma Preseason Intrasquad

Sunday, December 8th
2:00pm ET – Michigan Exhibition v. Central Michigan (Live video)
2:00pm CT – Illinois Orange and Blue Exhibition
2:00pm PT – UCLA Meet the Bruins Pawliday Party (this name . . .)

Tuesday, December 10th
6:00pm ET – Kentucky Blue/White Intrasquad

Thursday, December 12th
7:00pm ET – Penn State Blue/White Showcase
7:00pm ET – Maryland Red vs. Black Preview

Friday, December 13th
7:00 MT – Utah Red Rocks Preview (Live video will be available)

Saturday, December 14th 
10:00am ET – Georgia Sneak Peek
6:00pm MT – Denver Intrasquad

Sunday, December 15th
2:00pm PT – Stanford Scrimmage v. Sacramento State

You'll note some teams aren't here, but we do have videos.

December 4, 2013


A few bits and pieces from around the NCAA world as we stand around waiting for the season to start.

-The coaches poll isn't out yet. There is rarely rhyme or reason to when it is released each year. I think it has to do with the winter solstice, or the second waning moon after the SEC coaches slaughter a lamb at the altar of Mercury or something like that. I don't know, it's in the CoP.

-Gymcastic is beginning a series explaining the requirements of women's NCAA gym in preparation for the season. It's a must-read for newer fans and a good refresher for old, jaded wretches as well. 

-Some of the coaches are being very good boys and girls this year and releasing tons of videos. Others are electing to promote their teams and the sport via telepathy and the power of having no regrets.

-Minnesota scores bonus points for giving us every routine from a recent intrasquad. The program earns enough of my good will from this that I will refrain from dissecting how dire the bars situation appears. (But . . . ) A lot of people seem to be missing. In happier affairs, here's Lindsay Mable being all excellent on beam:

-Dave Kuzara is also giving us everything we could have hoped for in terms of Michigan videos. There's a bunch of good stuff there, but I'm including Austin Sheppard's bars in particular. Where did this come from?

December 1, 2013

2014 Balance Beam Situation Preseason Ranking

The coaches' poll for 2014 will soon be upon us, followed by one of my favorite gymnastics holidays, Making Fun of the Coaches' Poll Day. In anticipation of this momentous occasion, I submit my own preseason ranking list.

Keep in mind that this is not a prediction of April results but an assessment of where teams stand at the current moment. As always, treat this list as brilliant and perfect. (Note: I rank only 15 teams instead of 25 because once we get into that 16-25 range, so little separates the teams that trying to rank them with respect to one another would be based entirely on reputation and nothing.) Let us commence.

Yes, Rhonda, you're the winner. Being the defending champion affords Florida first claim to the top spot, and their argument is convincing, especially the Bridget Sloan and Kytra Hunter parts. Without Marissa King and Ashanee Dickerson, don't expect the Gators to be quite as strong in 2014 as they were in 2013, but they don't need to be in order to win. The Sloan, Hunter, Alaina Johnson, and Mackenzie Caquatto quartet remains the most formidable group of four gymnasts in the country, and
they will have a healthy enough dose of supporting routines to make 49.450s on each event seem like a far easier prospect than it has any right to be. 198s? Sure. 

It's finally time to promote the Sooners from the #4 spot. The team that came two vault landings away from snatching the title from Florida last season has added an exceptionally talented freshman class to help assemble what I see as the strongest team in the program's history. Oklahoma of 2014 should be able to improve on both its strengths and weaknesses, incorporating even more gracefully energetic work into bars and beam and injecting a bit more raw power into vault and floor to help make the amplitude goblins go away. They have the 9.9s. The question is, are there enough 9.950s to win a national championship?

Kim Jacob, Diandra Milliner, and Sarah DeMeo are poised to take over the starring roles that have long belonged to the Ashleys, Priess and Sledge. They have been groomed well for the part, and we can expect 9.9s to blossom all over the place for that trio on two to three events apiece. Now congratulate me for going two whole sentences discussing Alabama's prospects for 2014 without mentioning bars. For Alabama to reign at the top, they can't be the short handstand sisters and will likely need three consistently 9.9-caliber routines to avoid falling behind. This will not be a year where they can rest on vault and floor. Freshmen, you have your mission.

On paper, UCLA was right in the same pack as Oklahoma and Alabama going into this season in spite of the several thousand lost routines, but the continued injury saga of Peng Peng Lee has pushed the Bruins back a touch. They probably needed her routines to contend, and this now puts immense significance on the comeback of Sam Peszek. For UCLA to have any chance, she must be the queen of scoring, which of course she can be. There are a number of enticing routines on this team, as there always are, but they will have to prove they are more than a smattering of nice routines here and there. There's a Zamarripa-shaped hole in the doors to Pauley, and someone needs to fill it.