No. 4 Mississippi State set to host Vanderbilt
STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) Mississippi State has a tenuous grasp on the No. 4 spot in the most recent four-team College Football Playoff bracket.
Even if the fourth-ranked Bulldogs (9-1, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) win their final two regular-season games, there's no guarantee they'll have a chance to play for a SEC or national championship.
But coach Dan Mullen says Mississippi State is focused on just one task: How it performs Saturday during the season's final home game against Vanderbilt (3-7, 0-6). The Bulldogs can finish a perfect season at Davis Wade Stadium for the first time since 1999.
''We control our destiny in this game this week,'' Mullen said. ''We don't ever worry more than this one game. You never can. All we can control is the next game. I think we're in complete control of how we perform against Vanderbilt.''
The Bulldogs' suffered their first loss of the season last weekend against Alabama. It was a mistake-filled performance by quarterback Dak Prescott, who threw three interceptions in Tide territory.
Prescott said he hopes to clean up those mistakes against the Commodores, who have lost all six of their conference games by at least 10 points.
Vanderbilt hasn't played in two weeks since losing to Florida 34-10. The Commodores have looked better on offense since inserting freshman quarterback Johnny McCrary into the starting lineup.
''I think they've made an awful lot of improvements,'' Mullen said. ''They're a tough defense; play hard, play physical and will be a huge challenge for us. We have to see and make sure our guys come out. We have to play better.''
Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason hopes his team can avoid mistakes - the Commodores lead the SEC with 23 turnovers - and compete with the Bulldogs.
''What I'm looking for is our best game in a bowl-type atmosphere,'' Mason said. ''So if you can't get excited about playing this type of ballgame ... I don't know if you should play in the SEC. The SEC is a great place to play. Let's go get it.''
Some things to watch when No. 4 Mississippi State hosts Vanderbilt on Saturday:
PRESCOTT'S REBOUND: Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott had some rough moments in last weekend's loss to Alabama, throwing three interceptions in Tide territory. Prescott has thrown eight interceptions over his past five games. A game against Vanderbilt might provide relief - the Commodores rank near the bottom of the SEC in most pass defense categories.
PERFECT (HOME) SEASON: Mississippi State isn't undefeated anymore, but the Bulldogs can have a perfect record at home for the first time since 1999 if they beat Vanderbilt. Davis Wade Stadium has proved a formidable environment this season, with Mississippi State knocking off conference foes Auburn, Texas A&M and Arkansas.
PLENTY AT STAKE: Mississippi State was ranked No. 4 in the latest College Football playoff poll and must win its last two games to stay in contention for the four-team bracket. The Bulldogs still have an outside shot at winning the SEC's Western Division, but must win their final two games and hope Auburn beats Alabama in the Iron Bowl.
TURNOVERS GALORE: Vanderbilt ranks last in the SEC with 23 turnovers this season. Mississippi State - despite a 9-1 record - is right behind them with 21. The coaches for both teams have said that ball security is a must going forward. Said Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason: ''I'd like to see us not turn the ball over and see where we're at in the ballgame. When you have turnovers, it's hard to win. Our emphasis is on not turning the ball over. Let's possess the ball and get into the fourth quarter and see what it looks like.''
BACK TO MCCRARY: Vanderbilt is one of only two FBS schools to start four quarterbacks this season, but Johnny McCrary has taken over the position late in the season. He is expected to make his fourth straight start Saturday night, and has thrown nine touchdown passes.
AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this story.
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