The announcement was made Wednesday by the Football Writers Association of America and the Charlotte Touchdown Club. The other finalists are USC linebacker Rey Maualuga, Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo, Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes and Wake Forest cornerback Alphonso Smith.
The winner will be announced Dec. 7 with Hughes and the other finalists in attendance at the Bronko Nagurski Trophy awards banquet at the Westin Hotel in Charlotte, N.C.
The FWAA award is named after Nagurski, who dominated college football at Minnesota as a fullback and tackle from 1927-29.
Hughes tops the nation with 14 sacks while ranking in the top five in tackles for loss (17.5), fumbles forced (five) and fumbles recovered (three). He also has two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown.
The 14 sacks have set a single-season Mountain West Conference record and rank second on TCU's chart behind only Bo Schobel (17, 2003).
Hughes anchors a TCU defense that leads the nation in total defense (220.0 yards per game), run defense (39.5) and sacks (40) while ranking third in scoring defense (11.0 points per game).
A junior from Sugar Land, Texas, Hughes is one of 15 "Players to Watch" (and one of just five defensive players) for the Walter Camp Football Foundation's 2008 Player of the Year Award. A Midseason All-American by The Sporting News, Hughes is also one of 15 semifinalists for the Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player.
Additionally, Hughes appears on the Midseason Watch List for the Ted Hendricks Award as the top defensive end in the nation. He is a three-time Mountain West Conference Player of the Week this season.
Hughes earned National Defensive Player of the Week honors from the Walter Camp Football Foundation and the FWAA/Bronko Nagurski Trophy after his four sacks and two forced fumbles in a 32-7 win over then-No. 8 BYU.
The No. 15 Horned Frogs (9-2, 6-1) are one victory away from their fifth 10-win campaign in the last seven seasons.