The Biletnikoff Award is presented annually to the nation’s outstanding receiver. The three finalists for the 2006 award include Jarett Dillard of Rice University, Calvin Johnson of Georgia Tech, and Notre Dame’s Jeff Samardzija.

Of course, this award is just as subjective as all the other honors being handed out this time of year, so you shouldn’t be shocked that marquee names like USC’s Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith, Ohio State’s Ted Ginn, Jr., or DeSean Jackson of Cal didn’t make the finalist cut.

Perhaps what perplexes fans the most is the lack of distinct criteria for determining the award winner. If the most important receiving stat is total receptions, total yards or yards per game average, then where is the national leader in all three categories–Chris Williams of New Mexico State–with 92 catches, 1,425 yards and 118.7 yards per game?

If the key benchmarking category for receivers is yards per catch, then what about Mississippi State’s Tony Burks with a whopping 24.3 yards per catch average? Interestingly, Jarrett Dillard’s nation-leading 20 touchdown receptions render him the only Biletnikoff finalist to lead the NCAA in a receiving statistical category.

Well, it is what it is, so let’s take a look at the three finalists and see what “it is” that separates them from the rest of the pack, and from each other.

Both Calvin Johnson (6-foot-5, 235-pound junior) and Jeff Samardzija (6-5, 218-pound senior) have the prototypical big receiver physical attributes that pro scouts drool over. Johnson’s line for the regular season reads 59 receptions, 899 yards (15.2-yard average) and 13 TDs. Samardzija has 70 grabs, 958 yards (13.7 average) and 11 TDs.

Samardzija has benefited from playing on national TV every week for one of the nation’s most recognized college football programs, as well as profiting from the attention lapped upon his Heisman candidate teammate, Brady Quinn. His signature moment this year came against UCLA game when he caught a pass from Quinn with 40 seconds left and outmaneuvered several Bruin defenders for an improbable 45-yard, game-winning touchdown.

Johnson has been making circus catches for three years now, and he’s regularly featured on ESPN’s “top ten plays of the day” throughout the college football season. He’s been compared to the Arizona Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald, and would have accumulated far more impressive statistics if he had the fortune of being paired with a better passing quarterback than Reggie Ball. Most analysts expect Johnson to turn pro after this season rather than sticking around to break in a new Tech QB.

In stark contrast, Jarrett Dillard is just a sophomore and one of the smallest receivers in Division 1-A football at 5-11 and 160 pounds. But good things often come in small packages, and Dillard is no exception. His 82 receptions, 1,176 yards (14.3 average) and 20 TDs stand the tallest among the three finalists, particularly when you consider that Dillard has played with two different quarterbacks this year in a revamped Rice offense that was anchored to the ground game for years under former head coach Ken Hatfield.

Will Rice’s shifty sophomore receiver walk away with this prestigious honor over Notre Dame’s Samardzija and Georgia Tech’s Johnson?

The Biletnikoff Award will be presented on the ESPN College Awards Show on Dec. 7.