Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck was the preseason favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, so the fact that he got an invite to the award presentation shouldn’t be a surprise. But the fact that he’ll be joined by a defensive back, a track star in shoulder pads and a Wisconsin player not named Russell Wilson might be.

Luck was announced Monday night as a Heisman finalist, along with Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, Alabama running back Trent Richardson, Wisconsin running back Montee Ball and Louisiana State DB Tyrann Mathieu.

Luck, a fourth-year junior, is a finalist for the second straight year after leading Stanford to an 11-1 season and a Fiesta Bowl bid. Widely expected be the top pick in next spring’s NFL draft, Luck threw for 3,170 yards and 35 touchdowns for the Cardinal this year.

Although he didn’t have huge individual passing numbers (only four 300-yard passing games this season), Luck threw just nine interceptions in 12 games and had multiple touchdown passes in every game. Luck finished second to Cam Newton in last year’s Heisman race.

Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, who chose football over an Olympic track career, has almost singlehandedly turned the Bears football program around, leading them to the team’s first nine-win season since 1986. With 3,998 passing yards to go with 36 touchdowns and just six interceptions, Griffin leads the nation in passing efficiency in a single season (192.3), an NCAA record. RG3 has added 644 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. The fourth-year junior is one of only three players in FBS history with 10,000 yards passing and 2,000 rushing in a career. Griffin is the first Baylor player ever to be a Heisman finalist.

Trent Richardson joins 2009 Heisman winner Mark Ingram as the second Alabama running back invited to New York in three years. Running for 1,583 yards this season, Richardson is fifth in the nation in both yards per game (131.9) and touchdowns (23). The junior leads all SEC running backs in rushing, scoring and total offense while leading the Crimson Tide into the national championship game. He has also proven to be a threat out of the backfield, with 327 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

The other running back in the race, Wisconsin junior Montee Ball currently leads the nation in scoring at 17.54 points per game. His 38 total touchdowns (32 rushing, six receiving) also lead the nation and leave him just one shy of Barry Sanders’ all-time single season record (although Sanders set his record in 11 games, while Ball will have 14 to break it). While much of the early season hype around the Badgers focused on transfer quarterback Russell Wilson, Ball has been the steadying force powering the Wisconsin offense with 1,759 rushing yards, tops in the Big Ten.

LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu was probably the biggest surprise of the bunch, getting an invite over high-powered quarterbacks like Case Keenum, Matt Barkley, and Brandon Weeden. After missing the Tigers’ game against Auburn in late October due to a drug suspension, the diminutive “Honey Badger” was an afterthought in the Heisman race. But LSU’s continued defensive dominance along with big plays in front of national audiences (punt return touchdowns against both then-#3 Arkansas and #14 Georgia in the SEC title game) the last two weeks of the season brought Mathieu back into the spotlight. On the season, he has forced five fumbles, intercepted two passes and scored four times. He leads the SEC in forced fumbles and punt return yardage. Mathieu is the second defensive player to be a Heisman finalist in the last three years (Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh finished fourth in 2009) and hopes to join former Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson (1997) as the only defensive players to win the award.

The Heisman Trophy will be awarded in New York City Saturday night.


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