Must-See Games, Plus Who's Hot Among Maxwell, Bednarik Candidates

September 28, 2017 by Rich Cirminiello, Maxwell Football Club

A list of must-see games this week, and highlights of performances from last week's games involving Maxwell and Bednarik Award candidates, presented by the Maxwell Football Club.'s Dave Congrove is a voting member of each of these prestigious awards.

Must-See Games This Week

USC at Washington State - Friday, 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Forgive the hyperbole, but Friday night's visit from unbeaten and fifth-ranked USC will sit among the most important games in the modern history of Wazzu football. Upset the Trojans in front of an electric home crowd, and the Cougars will have to be considered a legit threat to win a Pac-12 title. Naturally, the quarterbacks, USC's Sam Darnold and Washington State's Luke Falk, will be in the spotlight. However, these two programs can bring on D as well. In fact, Mike Leach's crew leads the conference in total defense, yielding just 262 yards per game.

Georgia at Tennessee - Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Almost a year to the day after losing to rival Tennessee on a Hail Mary heave, Georgia will be out for revenge in Knoxville. The Dawgs also hope to build on what has been a terrific start to Kirby Smart's second season as head coach. Georgia has beaten two teams ranked at kickoff, Notre Dame and Mississippi State, to rise to into the top 10. Meanwhile, the Vols and beleaguered coach Butch Jones want to rebound from a walk-off loss to Florida and last Saturday's lackluster defeat of UMass. This matchup features three gifted runners, Tennessee's John Kelly and Georgia's Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.

Mississippi State at Auburn - Saturday, 6:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Will the real Mississippi State please stand up? The Bulldogs need to figure out whether they're the team that crushed LSU two weeks ago, 37-7, or the one that was abused by Georgia, 31-3, last Saturday. While this is a pivotal SEC West game for MSU, it's a pretty big deal for Auburn, too. While the Tigers are fresh off their best game of the month, crushing Mizzou on the road, they've yet to hit their stride. Jordan-Hare Stadium will be the stage of an intriguing battle of versatile quarterbacks, Mississippi State's Nick Fitzgerald and Auburn's Jarrett Stidham, who's still growing into the Tigers' new offensive system.

Clemson at Virginia Tech - Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET (ABC)
Blacksburg at night will be electric, as Virginia Tech hosts Clemson in a rematch of last year's ACC Championship Game. Both schools are 4-0 and ranked, so there'll be tremendous implications within the conference and the chase for a playoff berth. While the Hokies and the Tigers began the season with question marks behind center, Josh Jackson and Kelly Bryant have so far risen to the occasion, respectively. This matchup will also feature a cadre of topflight coaches, from head guys Dabo Swinney and Justin Fuente to defensive coordinators Brent Venables and Bud Foster.

Maxwell Award

The Maxwell has been presented annually since 1937 for the College Player of the Year since 1937.

RB Darius Anderson, TCU
A backup and relative unknown when the season began, Anderson continues to be a revelation for the surging Horned Frogs. With Kyle Hicks nursing an injury, Anderson got the most work of his brief college career, starring in TCU's 44-31 upset at then-No. 6 Oklahoma State. The shifty sophomore with the quick feet sprinted for 160 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries, while also adding four catches for 41 more yards.

RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State
No player in the long and storied history of Penn State football has ever amassed more all-purpose yards in a single game than Barkley's 358 in Saturday's thrilling win at Iowa. Barkley's entire array of skills was on display at Kinnick Stadium, as he rushed for 211 yards and a score on 28 carries, caught a team-high 12 passes for 94 yards and handled kickoffs. For his versatility and explosiveness, he's this past weekend's Maxwell Award Player of the Week.

QB Kurt Benkert, Virginia
After a little more than a year of rebuilding and coaching up inherited personnel, Bronco Mendenhall has the Hoos moving in the right direction. It's helped to have a veteran quarterback like Benkert, who's guided UVA to a 3-1 start. The former East Carolina Pirate spearheaded a 42-23 blowout of Boise State, the Broncos' worst home loss since 2001. With plenty of help from big-play WR Andre Levrone, Benkert efficiently threw for 273 yards and three touchdowns on 19-of-29 passing.

RB Myles Gaskin, Washington
In U-Dub's biggest game of the year to date, it dispatched a clear message that the Pac-12 title still goes through Seattle. Behind the tough running of Gaskin, the Huskies obliterated reining South Division champ Colorado in Boulder, 37-10. The junior established a personal single-game best by rushing for 202 yards and a pair of scores on 27 carries against a quality defense. Gaskin was so effective that QB Jake Browning only needed to attempt 21 passes in the comfortable victory.

WR Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
Kirk used Jerry's World in Arlington, Tex. as a stage to showcase why he's one of college football's most versatile and electrifying weapons. The junior took over Saturday's 50-43 overtime shootout with Arkansas, won by the Aggies, catching five balls for 110 yards and two scores and returning a kick 100 yards late in the fourth quarter. Kirk's final touchdown, a 10-yard reception in OT, wound up being the game-winner for A&M.

RB Bryce Love, Stanford
Love is making this whole succeeding Christian McCaffrey thing look easy. The heir to one of Stanford's all-time great playmakers seized control of the FBS rushing lead by cranking out 263 yards and a score on 30 carries in Saturday night's 58-34 trucking of UCLA. Love is averaging a hard-to-fathom 10.8 yards per carry through the first four weeks, which includes a nation's-best five gallops of 50 yards or more.

QB Manny Wilkins, Arizona State
The Sun Devils shook off a shaky start to 2017 with a Week 4 upset of Oregon, knocking the Ducks out of the Top 25. Wilkins has been one of the bright spots in Tempe so far, accounting for 10 scores and no interceptions through four games. The rapidly maturing junior was at his multidimensional best versus the Ducks. In the 37-35 victory, Wilkins rushed for a pair of scores and completed 24-of-39 passes for 347 yards and another touchdown.

Bednarik Award

The Bednarik Award has been presented annually to the nation's top defensive player since 1995.

WLB Dakota Allen, Texas Tech
The Red Raiders are making much-needed strides on defense under Kliff Kingsbury. And Allen has been the frontman of the unit so far in 2017. Texas Tech surprised Houston, which entered Week 4 on a 16-game home winning streak, creating five takeaways to reach 3-0. Allen, the weekend's top-rated linebacker according to Pro Football Focus, produced a dozen tackles, a half tackle for loss, an interception and a pair of quarterback hurries.

DE Bradley Chubb, NC State
True freshman James Blackman received a rude welcome to the Florida State starting lineup Saturday, courtesy of the Pack's ace pass rusher. Chubb harassed Blackman throughout State's upset win in Tallahassee, bagging seven tackles, a couple of sacks and a forced fumble. Even when Chubb, Pro Football Focus' highest graded defensive end of Week 4, wasn't padding his numbers, he was demanding double-teams and generally frazzling the overmatched Seminole blockers.

DE Jalen Jelks, Oregon
Saturday's upset loss to Arizona State cannot dilute the emergence of Jelks, who's on the verge of becoming one of the Pac-12's premier pass rushers. On an evening that the rest of the Duck D struggled in Tempe, the 6-6, 245-pound junior treated the Sun Devil O-line like a maroon and gold turnstile. Of Jelks' team-high eight tackles, five were behind the line of scrimmage and three were sacks of Manny Wilkins.

MLB Josey Jewell, Iowa
Saturday's classic finish at Kinnick Stadium will long be remembered for Penn State's dramatic final drive and clutch, game-winning scoring strike from Trace McSorley to Juwan Johnson. What should not be forgotten is that despite the outcome, Jewell continues to play about as well as any middle linebacker in the country. He was once again ubiquitous in the classic with the Lions, totaling a game-high 16 stops, three tackles for loss, a fumble recovery, a pair of pass breakups and an interception that set up an Iowa touchdown.

CB Shamad Lomax, New Mexico State
After three nail-biters to open the season, the Aggies finally enjoyed a cakewalk in Week 4, crushing UTEP to even their record at 2-2. Yeah, the balanced offense delivered per usual in Las Cruces, but Lomax and the defense more than carried their weight as well. The sophomore from South Carolina contributed in all phases against the Miners, making nine tackles, breaking up two passes and picking off three more to set the FBS single-game standard so far in 2017.

S J.R. Reed, Georgia
A week ago, Mississippi State rung up 37 points on ranked LSU. This past Saturday in Athens? A measly field goal and just 280 total yards for the visitors from Starkville. And while Reed was hardly a solo act, he was a central figure in the impressive 31-3 victory. The versatile Tulsa transfer is making a smooth transition to the SEC so far, highlighted by his team-high 10 tackles and three pass breakups over the weekend.

DE Chase Winovich, Michigan
The Wolverine offense has been slow out of the gate, so Winovich and the D continue to pick up the slack. While Michigan got all it could handle from Purdue, which entered the weekend norming 36 points per game, the defense held the Boilermakers to only 10 points and nine first downs. The Big Ten sack leader plays like a 253-pound guided missile off the edge, harassing the Boilermakers for six stops, four tackles for minus and three sacks in a hard-fought conference win.