Looking at SEC finalists for awards

The SEC has eight players up for awards at "The Home Depot College Football Awards Show." The show will air tonight on ESPN at 9 p.m. ET.

Seven awards. Eight finalists. Who will bring some hardware back to the SEC?

Let's take a look at the finalists:

Maxwell Award (Best All-Around Player)

Case for Richardson: If you're looking for a player who put his entire team on his back, plus carried some defenders along with him, Richardson is your man. He was the soul of Alabama's offense and without him, there is no rematch. Richardson led the SEC with 1,583 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns. He averaged 137 yards in SEC play and ran for 100-plus yards in nine games this season.

Maxwell Football Club Defensive Player of the Year (Chuck Bednarik Trophy)

  • Dont'a Hightower, Alabama

  • Tyrann Mathieu, LSU

  • Devon Still, Penn St.

Case for Hightower: After being bothered by an injury last season, Hightower came back with a vengeance in 2011. He took out all of that aggression on helpless offensive players, leading Alabama with 81 tackles, had 9.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. He was also one of the fastest, most disruptive linebackers the SEC had to offer.

Case for Mathieu: When the Honey Badger wasn't twirling defenders around on punt returns, he was hunting footballs. Somehow, Mathieu had the ability to find the ball whenever -- and wherever -- he was on the field. Mathieu played with an almost elegant reckless abandon. He forced six fumbles, recovered five fumbles, intercepted two passes and led LSU with 70 tackles.

Jim Thorpe Award (best defensive back)

  • David Amerson, NC State

  • Mark Barron, Alabama

  • Morris Claiborne, LSU

Case for Barron: It's hard to find a better safety and student of the game than Barron. He was the leader of Alabama's secondary and mostly led by example -- good example. Barron found ways to fly around all areas of the field to make plays. Barron was second on the team with 66 tackles, had two interceptions and defended seven passes.

Case for Claiborne: Mathieu gets a lot more publicity, but Claiborne might be the nation's top cover corner. Equipped with a pair of extremely fast feet and a beautiful football mind, Claiborne completely took away his side of the field. Still quarterbacks dared throwing his way. So, Claiborne intercepted six passes and defended 12.

Doak Walker Award (best running back)

Case for Richardson: See above.

Lou Groza Collegiate Place-Kicker Award

  • Randy Bullock, Texas A&M

  • Dustin Hopkins, Florida St.

  • Caleb Sturgis, Florida

Case for Sturgis: He connected on 21-of-25 field goals, including a long of 55 yards. He actually hit three kicks from 50-plus-yards out on the year, going 3-of-5 from that distance. Sturgis didn't miss a kick inside 40 yards and hit all 28 of his extra points.

Ray Guy Award (best punter)

  • Ryan Allen, Louisiana Tech

  • Steven Clark, Auburn

  • Jackson Rice, Oregon

Case for Clark: He averaged 40.4 yards per punt on 64 punts this season. He had 30 punts downed inside opponents' 20-yard line, a mark that ranked him first in the SEC and second nationally. Only eight of Clark's punts have even been returned this season for just 41 yards. Thirty-three of his punts went for fair catches and two for touchbacks.

Outland Trophy (best interior lineman)

  • David DeCastro, Stanford

  • Barrett Jones, Alabama

  • Devon Still, Penn State

Case for Jones: He played the 2010 season at right guard, but made the move to left tackle to start 2011. However, he might have started there for nine games, but Jones moved all around the line, playing every position but right guard. He's one of the most talented and versatile linemen in the entire country.