Things you never thought you’d read five years ago: LSU has a huge gymnastics meet this week on national TV (7:30 p.m. tonight, SEC Network) that will be the biggest LSU sporting event of the month.
Gym has moved from a cool little sideshow that we briefly acknowledge during the postseason, to an out and out phenomenon. About the same number of people went to see LSU open up their season against Georgia as would watch the hoops team play Mississippi State that same weekend. And only one group of roughly 7,000 people actually went home happy.
LSU opened up the season with a bang at home against an outmatched opponent (sorry, Georgia), but now comes the hard part. Beating an equally talented conference rival on the road. And not just any rival, but the most hated of all schools: the dreaded Alabama Crimson Tide.
LSU performs better at home for a lot of reasons, but primarily because it feeds off of the raucous crowd. This isn’t a sit on your hands and appreciate the pretty girls kind of crowd, this is get up off your ass and scream you fool head off (in a family appropriate way) kind of crowd. LSU gym meets are a party, and taking the party on the road takes the air out of the balloon.
Additionally, LSU does benefit from, shall we say, friendly judges at home. It’s only natural that human beings would get swayed by the crowd, but that home crowd tonight will be working against LSU, not for it. LSU didn’t really need the hometown bump it got in scoring last weekend, but it was there, and that advantage goes away tonight.
Alabama started their season on the road, losing to preseason No. 1 and defending national champion Oklahoma in a hard fought meet. Bama gymnastics is not accustomed to starting the season in an 0-2 hole, so the pressure is on the Tide to turn in a big performance in their home opener.
For further motivation, the last time the Tigers came to Tuscaloosa, all they did was end the Tide’s 48-meet home winning streak. Since 2009, Alabama has lost only one meet at home, to the 2015 LSU Tigers. I’m gonna take a wild stab in the dark and guess that might be a major talking point in their locker room.
This isn’t like football, no one is going to be knocked out of title contention, national or conference, based on a regular season meet. At the end of the day, the regular season just sets up the seeding for the postseason, when the real competition begins.
But it would be a mistake to think that the stakes are low. LSU has forced its way into the top tier of the conference in gymnastics, next to Alabama and Florida. Shock of all shocks, they are not pleased to have to deal with an interloper. They are used to the days when LSU was a tough out, but ultimately a significant tier below the Super Six contenders at the pinnacle of the standings.
Those days are long since gone. LSU is the defending national runner up, but it is still searching for its first SEC title since 1981. In order to truly take its place at the top of the conference, LSU needs to go through Alabama. This meet is the first step to doing just that, and proving that their last trip was no fluke.
LSU gymnastics is for real. And much to Alabama’s chagrin, it ain’t going anywhere.