BATON ROUGE - LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne has been named as one of five finalists for the 2011 Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which is awarded to the National Defensive Player of the Year by the Football Writers Association of America and the Charlotte Touchdown Club.
Claiborne is joined on the list of finalists by Alabama safety Mark Barron, Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, Illinois end Whitney Mercilus and Penn State tackle Devon Still.
Claiborne has been a key contributor for the top-ranked Tigers as he has 38 tackles and four interceptions for an LSU defense that ranks second in the nation in three categories - scoring defense, pass efficiency defense, and total defense. Claiborne also has five pass breakups, one tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry to his credit.
Claiborne is also averaging 29.5 yards on 13 kickoff returns. He helped lead LSU to a road win over West Virginia earlier this year with a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
He also returned an interception 89 yards to setup a first half score in a road win over Tennessee. Claiborne had two interceptions in LSU's 19-6 road win over Mississippi State.
Claiborne becomes the second Tiger defender in as many years to put himself in contention for national awards. Last year, Patrick Peterson claimed the Bednarik Award and the Thorpe Award as well as being named the National Defensive Player of the Year.
The winner will be announced on Dec. 12 and presented the Bronko Nagurski Trophy at a gala banquet at the Westin Hotel in Charlotte, N.C., where Georgia head coach Mark Richt will be the keynote speaker.
The FWAA's National Defensive Player of the Year Award is named after Bronko Nagurski, who dominated college football at the University of Minnesota as a bruising fullback and defensive tackle from 1927-29. He could have been an All-American at any position, playing 60 minutes as the best player wherever he lined up.
A look at the five 2011 Bronko Nagurski Trophy finalists, as selected by the FWAA All-America Committee:
Mark Barron, Free Safety, Alabama, 6-2, 218, Sr. (Mobile, Ala.): An anchor of a Crimson Tide defense that ranks No. 1 nationally in the four major statistical categories - rush defense, pass defense, total defense and scoring defense. Barron, a 2010 FWAA All-America, has made 57 tackles this season (33 unassisted) for the once-beaten team. Barron has two interceptions and has made four tackles for seven yards in losses. He has five passes broken up and one quarterback hurry. He had an interception and a fumble recovery in a victory at Penn State.
Morris Claiborne, Cornerback, LSU, 6-0, 185, Jr. (Shreveport, La.): One of the stalwarts on a Tiger unit that ranks among the top six teams in college football in rush, pass, scoring and total defense. He has four interceptions with 128 yards in returns and one touchdown. He has made 38 tackles (22 unassisted) and collected one stop for a loss. Claiborne has broken up five passes and has registered one quarterback hurry. In a 19-6 victory over Mississippi State, he intercepted two passes.
Luke Kuechly, Linebacker, Boston College, 6-3, 237, Jr. (Cincinnati, Ohio): He has 168 tackles - 30 more than anyone else in the nation. He has 89 unassisted and 79 assisted tackles. His unassisted total leads the nation. He also has two interceptions, 10 tackles for loss, a pass breakup and two quarterback hurries. He has double-digit tackles in every game this season. He has played in 36 career games and has had double-digit tackles in 33, including 32 in a row. Kuechly was also a Nagurski finalist in 2010.
Whitney Mercilus, End, Illinois, 6-4, 265, Jr. (Akron, Ohio): Illinois started the season 6-0 and Mercilus is one of the big reasons. He ranks fourth in the country in tackles for loss (17.5). Those tackles total 93 yards in losses, of which 12.5 are sacks (82 yards in losses). He has forced seven fumbles to lead the nation. He has six quarterback hurries and one pass breakup for college football's No. 9 team in total defense (288.3 yards per game). Overall, he has made 47 total tackles (24 assisted).
Devon Still, Tackle, Penn State, 6-5, 310, Sr. (Wilmington, Del.): Penn State's defense ranks third in points allowed (12.9 per game), trailing only Alabama and LSU. And the Nittany Lions' defense is eighth nationally in yards allowed per game (287.2). Still has been the defensive leader and ranks sixth in the country in tackles for loss (16.5) for 75 yards, of which four are sacks for 34 yards in losses. He has one pass breakup and one forced fumble. He has 53 total tackles (25 assisted).