It's happening! A real weekend of meets! Lots of them! Of course, I'll be here live blogging like no one's business, so be sure to stop by. Here's what you need to know.
Friday begins with a few of the second-tier teams, including Auburn going up against North Carolina. I didn't preview Auburn this season, but I'm excited about the team this year and their chances to move into the first tier. They're returning the full roster from last season, so once again expect Caitlin Atkinson and MJ Rott to lead the way, but Auburn won't be at full strength tomorrow with some essentials still trying to return from injury. Bri Guy is beginning with just bars and beam this weekend as she comes back from her Achilles-mageddon, and Abby Milliet is slated just to exhibition on bars and beam tomorrow. Both will eventually be integral if Auburn is to ascend into the top 10. We need Abby Milliet in NCAA gymnastics as soon as possible.
That meet is only available on UNC's premium streaming, but there is free streaming of Denver/NC State for those with access to ESPN3. It will be interesting to gauge where Denver is now that Moriah Martin isn't there to steady lineups with 9.9s. Nina McGee will need to have a big season on all events if they're going to remain in that usual 15-20 range. Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Utah are all getting their seasons started on Friday as well, but my primary focus will be the simultaneous SEC broadcasts of the LSU/Iowa and Alabama/Arizona meets. I know a lot of people don't have SEC+ access, so I'll do my best to keep you updated with quick hits and honesty.
LSU should win comfortably. Alabama shouldn't have problems either unless the change to a new staff is far more drastic than any of us are anticipating. Still, there are some important areas to watch for both these teams in their opening meets. For LSU, keep an eye on bars. I have my questions, but if bars is at the same level as the other events from the first meet, that bodes very well for the Tigers. Who is replacing the Morrison and Dickson routines? Is it Shae Zamardi, and is the scoring potential equivalent? I'm also excited for Macadaeg to come into the beam lineup and to see whether beam looks like the dominant event I expect it to be.
For Alabama, I'm mostly interested to see who on earth makes these lineups. They have a lot of empty spots to fill and a lot of equivalent options, many of which seem realistic. With injuries limiting a few of the freshmen, one of the concerns about Alabama is that they will simply be forced to slot in a bunch of 9.825s that couldn't make the lineup last season, which would mean taking a scoring hit. The first month of the season will be about proving they do indeed have reinforcement 9.9s at their disposal. A fully healthy Kayla Williams would help in that department, but she can't do it alone with her two events.
Arizona once again should field a competitive team. A completely healthy Arizona is easily capable of 196s and taking advantage of mistakes from top schools. Recent message board chatter about a Kristin Klarenbach injury is ominous. That's devastating to their scoring potential on vault and floor, but be sure to watch for some standout routines from Shelby Edwards nonetheless. At this point in the year, and with those injury concerns, a mid-195 would be a victory.
Note that the official start time for the Alabama/Arizona meet is listed as 7:00 CT, but that's so that they can get in the customary 30 minutes of 8-year-olds trying desperately to get attention. The actual gymnastics begins at 7:30 CT (8:30 ET/5:30 PT) as listed below.
The only top-10 showdown of the weekend comes from Michigan and Georgia on Saturday. Georgia enters the meet as the favorite, coming in as the higher-ranked team, the home team, and the team returning far more top routines from last season. If Michigan pulled off the upset, it would be a major statement. Mostly for the Wolverines right now, I'm looking for depth of competitive routines in each lineup. Do they have top-class routines through all six spots, or are they forced to throw up some 9.650-9.725s early in rotations, particularly on vault and bars before Austin Sheppard returns?
For Georgia, the early part of 2015 needs to be about making sure beam and floor are at the same level as vault and bars, so pay attention to those rotations. They don't need another season of 49.500/49.500/48.900/49.050 meets. My biggest question: who is emerging as the most likely 9.9 option on beam now that Cheek and Earls aren't around? Hopefully Rogers, but she needs help. Will it be freshmen like Vaculik and Babalis? Returners like Broussard and Box? Sarah Persinger please? I'm fascinated, equal parts excited and scared, to see this beam lineup. Also vital will be how much competitive difficulty they're able to throw in floor tumbling. There are a couple double layouts on this team, and I want to see them.
In later-weekend action, Florida gets underway against Ball State (but who's going to win?!??!), and then on Monday we have UCLA and Oregon State facing off on the Pac-12 Network.
UCLA is always a bag of questions, but the anticipation to see where Peng Peng Lee is trumps the others. The Bruins absolutely need her to be the star she can be, and the first outing will be telling. I'm excited for that, and to see Transferville, USA (a.k.a. Oregon State). OSU has a strong core in Tang, Gardiner, McMillan, and Aufiero, with some absolutely lovely routines hanging around in there, but I'm probably most interested in what we get from Risa Perez, a beam and floor star, and Silvia Colussi-Pelaez, who may actually get to compete sometimes on this team. OSU needs a change from the last two disappointing seasons, and it may come from transfers.
Below is the weekend schedule for the top 25 teams. The full weekend and season schedule can be found at the link at the top.
Top 25 Schedule
Friday – 1/9/15
7:00 ET/4:00 PT –  Auburn @ North Carolina
7:00 ET/4:00 PT –  Ohio State @ Pittsburgh
7:00 ET/4:00 PT –  Denver @ NC State
8:00 ET/5:00 PT –  Arkansas @  Oklahoma
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Lindenwood @  Nebraska
8:30 ET/5:30 PT – Iowa @  LSU
8:30 ET/5:30 PT –  Arizona @  Alabama
9:00 ET/6:00 PT –  Utah @ BYU
10:00 ET/7:00 PT –  Stanford @ San Jose State
10:00 ET/7:00 PT –  Cal @ Sacramento State
Saturday – 1/10/15
4:00 ET/1:00 PT –  Michigan @  Georgia
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – New Hampshire, Rutgers, Cornell @  Penn State
7:30 ET/4:30 PT –  Iowa State @ Minnesota
Sunday – 1/11/15
1:00 ET/10:00 PT –  Florida @ Ball State
1:00 ET/10:00 PT –  Illinois @  Central Michigan
Monday – 1/12/15
9:00 ET/6:00 PT –  UCLA @  Oregon State
9:00 ET/6:00 PT –  Kentucky @  Washington