Vanderbilt-Middle Tennessee Preview

On paper, Vanderbilt visiting Middle Tennessee of Conference USA should be a mismatch with the Commodores from the mighty Southeastern Conference.

Instead, the Commodores find themselves underdogs as they resume a rivalry with a program not even an hour's drive from Nashville trying to avoid another loss to a C-USA team after dropping the opener 14-12 loss to Western Kentucky. They also take a three-game skid to Murfreesboro for the first game between these teams since 2005.

Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason says his Commodores don't care about the line or history in a series where none of the coaches or players are still around.

''Let's let this thing get kicked off and when it's done you'll be able to figure out what the spread, what the line or whatever it all means,'' Mason said. ''I just know this team's ready to play.''

This is the chance for the Blue Raiders (2-2) to host an SEC team, and coach Rick Stockstill said they are excited that it's their next-door neighbor Vanderbilt.

''Everybody always says that the SEC is the best conference in the country and anytime we get a chance to play those guys it's special,'' Stockstill. ''It means something to us this week I can promise you that.''

The Commodores (1-3) are coming off a 27-16 loss at No. 3 Mississippi, and Mason's defense gets its third chance at an up-tempo offense this season after holding Ole Miss to a season-low in points. Vanderbilt ranks 40th nationally allowing 19.8 points a game.

Middle Tennessee missed a last-second field goal in losing 27-25 at Illinois and the Blue Raiders rank 12th nationally averaging 44.5 points a game. They've scored 70 or better twice on their own field this season.

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Here are some things to watch when Vanderbilt visits the Blue Raiders:

MCCRARY SETTLING IN: Mason has never wavered from his quarterback Johnny McCrary this season, and the sophomore has helped the Commodores show improvement across the board offensively from a year ago. Vanderbilt is averaging 412 yards per game with the biggest boost coming through passing. The Commodores also rank 18th nationally and second in the SEC holding the ball an average of 33 minutes, 20 seconds. But Vanderbilt has room for improvement in scoring averaging just 22.2 points per game and has yet to score more than 16 against an FBS opponent.

FRESHMAN QB: Stockstill looks like a smart coach and not a proud papa for starting his son at quarterback. Brent Stockstill leads all freshmen with both 1,221 yards passing and 12 TD passes. The quarterback has Middle Tennessee rolling up 475.8 yards per game and averaging 44.5 points per game, which ranks 12th nationally.

DEFENSIVE PRESSURE: McCrary still has more interceptions (five) than touchdowns (four), but he has taken better care of the ball with no interceptions the past two games. He will have to be very careful Saturday night. The Blue Raiders rank eighth nationally with seven interceptions already, and safety Kevin Byard leads active players with 16 career interceptions. Vanderbilt finally got its first two interceptions this season off Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly.

PRODUCTIVE RECEIVERS: Vanderbilt sophomore wide receiver Trent Sherfield leads the SEC averaging seven catches and is second in the league with 100.5 yards receiving per game. Middle Tennessee counters with a pair of pass catchers in Richie James who ranks eighth nationally with 8.5 receptions per game, and senior Ed Batties is second with seven TD catches averaging 111.5 yards receiving per game.

BRAGGING RIGHTS: Vanderbilt senior Steven Scheu said he didn't know if he'd call this game a big deal. ''We'd like to think this is our state, so we'd like to really show everybody we do own Tennessee,'' Scheu said.

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Online:

AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

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