NEW YORK (AP) -The Heisman Trophy competition is a three-man race – just as it’s been all season.

Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart of Southern California will be back in New York on Saturday, along with Texas quarterback Vince Young, when the Heisman Trophy is awarded to the nation’s best college football player.

The Downtown Athletic Club, which hands out the sport’s most prestigious individual award, invited Wednesday only those three players to the presentation ceremony.

Last season, five players attended the Heisman ceremony and Leinart won it. Since 1999, either four or five finalists have been invited to New York.

Bush, Leinart and Young have been the front-runners since the preseason, and they’ve been jockeying for position all year.

The two USC stars said they were proud to be returning to the ceremony.

“It was a a great experience last year, seeing Matt win it,” said Bush, who finished fifth in the 2004 voting.

Leinart said, “It’s a great honor to be invited as a Heisman finalist again. I look forward to returning to New York with Reggie, and congratulations to Vince Young as well.”

Bush emerged as the favorite in the past three weeks with two enormous games.

The 200-pound speedster had 513 all-purpose yards in a 50-42 victory over Fresno State and he rushed for 260 yards and two touchdowns in a 66-19 victory over UCLA, which completed a perfect regular season for the Trojans (12-0).

Bush has rushed for a career-high 1,658 yards, averaging 8.9 per carry, and scored 18 touchdowns.

The junior would be the first running back to win the award since Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne in 99. The last five winners have been quarterbacks. Leinart is having an even better season this year than last, when he became the sixth USC player to win the Heisman, and second Trojans quarterback in three years.

Leinart passed up a chance to become the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft to return to USC for his senior year.

His most memorable moments came at the end of one of his most inconsistent games.

With USC trailing at Notre Dame 31-28 and 1:32 left in the game, Leinart audibled to a risky fade pattern on fourth-and-9 from his own 26 and threw a perfect pass to Dwayne Jarrett. The completion covered 61 yards.

Soon after, Leinart spun into the end zone with help from a Bush push to score the winning touchdown with 3 seconds left.

The left-hander is 37-1 in three years as a starter and could become the second player to win two Heismans, joining Ohio State running back Archie Griffin, who won in 1974 and 75.

Young, the best running quarterback in the country, became an effective passer this season, throwing for 2,769 yards and 26 touchdowns. He’s led the Longhorns (12-0) to a perfect regular season and Big 12 title.

The junior vaulted to the front of the Heisman race just two weeks into the season, when he led Texas to a 25-22 victory at Ohio State, tossing the winning score with less than three minutes left.

About a month later, Texas found itself trailing at halftime 28-9 to Oklahoma State when Young took over. His 80-yard touchdown run sparked a comeback and was part of a record-setting game for Young.

He piled up 506 total yards, a Texas record, and became just the second QB in major college history to run and pass for more than 230 in the same game.

Young would be Texas’ third Heisman winner, joining running backs Ricky Williams (98) and Earl Campbell (77).

The three finalists will meet in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 4 with the national title on the line.

Last season, four of the five finalists played in the Bowl Championship Series national title game when USC defeated Oklahoma for the Trojans’ second straight crown.

Sooners tailback Adrian Peterson was the runner-up to Leinart last season, and 2003 Heisman winner Jason White of Oklahoma was third.

AP-ES-12-07-05 2140EST

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