What makes the Heisman hopefuls great?

Crystal LoGiudice/US Presswire

LSU's Tyrann Mathieu is a Heisman hopeful because he was valuable both when he had the ball, and when he didn't.The Heisman Trophy will be awarded at 8 pm ET on ESPN. Here's a statistical snapshot of the strengths of each of the finalists for the sport's most prestigious honor.

Andrew Luck, Stanford

Luck’s 2011 season stats are eerily similar to those of his 2010 season where he was the Heisman runner-up. His completion percentage, touchdowns and interceptions, yards-per- attempt, and number of 20-yard completions are nearly identical.

Most Red Zone Pass TD
FBS, 2011 Season

Luck did improve statistically in two areas.

On passes that went at least 10 yards down the field, he finished with 17 touchdowns and only three interceptions, an improvement upon his 16-to-7 ratio in 2010

Luck’s accuracy on play-action passes (73 percent completion rate) was a near-match for 2010 (72 percent), but an increase of how often he passed out of play action (from 22 percent of the time to 28 percent) resulted in his doubling the number of touchdowns he made on such plays, from eight to 16.

Stat to know:Luck is trying to become Stanford's first Heisman winner since Jim Plunkett (1970).

Robert Griffin III, Baylor

Passing on Throws 25+ Yards
Notable QB, 2011 Season

When it comes to pressure, Griffin handled as well as any other quarterback in the nation. Griffin completed over 70 percent of his pass attempts when opponents blitzed this season with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.

Griffin excelled in 2011 with the deep ball, as much as anyone in the country. Griffin completed a higher percentage of his passes and threw more touchdowns than many other notable quarterbacks on throws of 25 yards or more downfield this season.

Griffin’s 17 touchdown passes of at least 50 yards over the last two seasons are the most in college football by a considerable amount, five more than Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones. Griffin leads FBS with 10 touchdown passes of at least 50 yards in 2011.

Stat to know: Baylor has never had a Heisman Trophy winner. If Griffin wins, Baylor will be the sixth different school in the state of Texas with a Heisman, joining Texas, Texas A&M, Houston, TCU and SMU. No other state has had more than three schools with a winner (California, Florida).

Trent Richardson, Alabama

What made Richardson so good this season was that he was tough to tackle. Nearly half of his rushing yards (767 of 1,583) came after contact. He broke for at least 10 yards at a rate of nearly once every six runs.

Most Rush, 15+ Yards In SEC Play
Single-Season Since Start Of 2004

Richardson had 21 rushes of 15 yards or longer in SEC play this season, including three in the Iron Bowl against Auburn. Only Cam Newton has had more in SEC play (22) over the past eight seasons.

In his last chance to impress Heisman voters, Trent Richardson ran for a career-high 203 yards on 27 carries Saturday against Auburn.

Richardson showcased his versatility by gaining 100 yards after contact and by breaking five runs for at least 10 yards, including ones of 35 and 57 yards.

Richardson’s performance was reminiscent of Alabama’s Mark Ingram, who also excelled in his last chance to secure votes, rushing for 113 yards, 75 coming after contact in the 2009 SEC title game against Florida.

Stat to Know: Richardson and Mark Ingram would be just the third pair of running back teammates to both win the Heisman Trophy, joining Charles White (1979) & Marcus Allen (1981) from USC and Doc Blanchard (1945) & Glenn Davis (1946) from Army.

Tyrann Mathieu, LSU

Pass Defense by Throw Location
LSU This Season

Mathieu has only a pair of interceptions this season, but he has forced an FBS-high six fumbles.

Mathieu is also tied for the lead in the FBS with five fumble recoveries, two of which he returned for touchdowns.

LSU is ranked third in the nation in pass efficiency defense this season (93.1) and that has a lot to do with their play on the perimeter. Opponents have struggled to throw the ball towards the sideline against the Tigers, an area usually patrolled by Mathieu.

LSU finished the regular season having allowed 5.4 yards per pass attempt in 2011, tied for third-fewest in the nation. Teams were unable to stretch the field against the Tigers as they had more than twice as many interceptions (9) as completions allowed (4) on passes of 25 or more yards downfield this season.

Overall, LSU’s foes were 4-for-38, with just one touchdown on those sorts of throws. Teams in the BCS Top 25 were 2-for-20 with four interceptions.

Stat To Know: Mathieu would be the second Heisman winner from LSU, joining Billy Cannon (1959) and the second defensive player to win the Heisman, joining Charles Woodson.

Montee Ball, Wisconsin

Richardson is credited with getting his numbers against tough SEC defenses, but Ball’s opponents have stacked up to what Richardson has faced.

Wisconsin’s FBS opponents ranked an average of 68th against the run this season compared to 59th for Alabama’s opponents. Ball has only faced one fewer team that ranked in the top 50 in opponents rushing defense than Richardson did.

Running Back Comparison
2011 FBS Opp Rush Defense Rank

Ball also had more yards (1,759), touchdowns (32) and big runs (57 runs of at least 10 yards) than Richardson in 2011. Richardson finished with 42 runs of at least 10 yards.

Ball's strength was in blowing past opposing defenders. He was not touched by the defense on 18 of his 32 rushing touchdowns.

Also of note: Of his 32 rushing touchdowns, 23 came against defenses that were ready for him-- those that lined up eight or more men in the box.

Stat To Know: Ball leads FBS with 38 touchdowns this season. The last national scoring leader to win the Heisman was Eddie George in 1995.