Saturday, 09 December 2023 20:56

2024 Top 25 Season Previews: #1 to #25 (Complete) Featured

OU's Jordan Bowers OU's Jordan Bowers (c) 2023 Lloyd Smith, Used by Permission

The 2024 season is about to kick off, and we're anticipating a high-flying season with plenty of record high scores.  We're once again publishing Season Previews for the entire Top 25 teams, as ranked by the Coaches' Preseason Poll.  In each Preview, we've summarized the team's returning routines, their lost routines, their returning starters and the rest of their roster, with a special focus on their newcomers.  We'll also give a brief overview preview of their prospects and challenges.  (Note:  All of the Previews are now complete)

OU is Once Again the Favorite to Repeat

The defending National Champion Oklahoma Sooners are once again the favorites to repeat, earning first place in the Preseason Coaches' Poll with 36 first place votes.  They have an experienced set of core athletes, minimal losses and some exciting newcomers.  Year in and out the coaching staff at OU produces contenders, and early indications from the preseason intrasquad is that they are once again going to be a force in the NCAA. 

Rising Challengers to the Title

However, the rest of the teams are not ready to concede the top spot.  Florida still has tremendous talent on their roster, despite some major losses to graduation this past year.  LSU overachieved last season, overcoming numerous injuries make the NCAA Final.  This season, those key gymnasts are back from injury and when combined with a strong frosh class, LSU could close the gap and surpass both Florida and OU.  Utah will look to turn a page from the offseason headlines of abuse and the subsequent departures and put forth a strong effort to get back into title contention.  UCLA will seek to overcome the loss of superstar Jordan Chiles, who is sitting out this season to train for the Olympics.  They will seek to continue the momentum started last season under new Head Coach Janelle McDonald.  These teams and many more will be gaining for a spot in the NCAA Semi-Finals, with the hope of advancing to the Finals.    

Close and Exciting Regional Meets

Last season we saw some extremely close Regional Finals, accentuating the rising parity in the NCAA and a set of code modifications that facilitate increased parity.  The margin between 2nd and 3rd place advancing teams was very tight:  0.15 in Pittsburgh, 0.1 in Norman, .325 in Los Angeles and in Denver, a tiebreaker.  The Denver Regional saw just 0.225 points between the first-place team and the 4th.  Gone are the days when a team can count a fall and still expect to advance to the NCAA nationals.   

The End of the "College Salute"

The most visible change for 2024 will be a rule change will concern the "college salute".  Gymnasts on VT, UB and BB will be required to hold their finishing salute for 1 second, with legs straight, arms up and in the direction that they landed.  This applies to both stuck landings and those with steps, hops and other adjustments (but not falls or injuries).  This means the "College Salute" -- a quick (head back, back arched) salute followed by a quick celebration or turn will now incur a 0.05 deduction.  (A similar deduction was in place last season for the FX). 

Virtually no Code Changes

As we highlighted in our preview of the NCAA Code changes for 2024, there are virtually no changes of significance in the judging rules for 2024.  This means we'll likely see some record high scores like a 199, multiple team National Qualifying Scores (NQS) over 198 and an NQS above 197 required to make the Top 25.  However, there were a few changes to the underlying USA Gymnastics Code of Points that will ripple through to the NCAA.  Perhaps the largest is the addition of a 0.15 deduction for a medium sized step on dismounts, vault landings and even floor landings.  This adds an intermediate deduction level between a "step" and "large step".  This may encourage some judges to take more than the 0.1 they typically took for a step (without going to the "large step" deduction). The judges on vault will now be able to take "up to 0.1" for under rotation.  Previously this deduction was a flat 0.1.  This allows some leeway between a vault that is slightly short and one that is considerably under rotated.  Squats on landings where hips are lower than the level of the knees are worth "up to 0.3" in deductions.  A squat that leads to a fall is "up to 0.3" plus 0.5 for the fall.      

Two Passes or Not?

The proliferation of two tumbling pass floor routines continues to increase.   While some coaches and athletes continue to train and compete three tumbling passes, many gymnasts are opting to switch to two-pass routines.  This change not only reduces wear and tear, it generally also reduces the opportunity for judges to take landing and execution deductions.  Gymnasts, by and large, are not adding meaningful dance difficulty in the place of the missing tumbling.  Thus, other than footwork and artistic deductions, there is little incentive to train a third pass, as long as the gymnast can manage to hit her required difficulty and minimum elements successfully.  While the top scoring routines in post-season generally still have a high level of difficulty, a well-executed two pass routine can still score well. 

Large, Experienced Rosters

Two years past the 2021 season, we are still seeing the impacts of gymnasts using their extra year of eligibility.  Combining the extra eligibility and new pathways to earn money (Name, Image and Likeness - NIL) or receive non-scholarship money, we are seeing some very large and experienced rosters.  These large rosters have made teams more immune to the impacts of injury and have allowed gymnasts to specialize to a higher degree, in order to break through to lineups.  Next season will essentially be the last year to see this change. 

But that's enough about the rules and the landscape of the NCAA, let's take a look at the teams!  Here's our 2024 Preseason Top 25 Season Previews: 

Link: Season Previews:  Teams #1 to #12

Link:  Season Preview: Teams #12 to #25


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