From John Cappelletti to Mike Rozier, running backs once walked off with 11 consecutive Heisman Trophies. Recently, though, quarterbacks have...

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NEW YORK — From John Cappelletti to Mike Rozier, running backs once walked off with 11 consecutive Heisman Trophies.

Recently, though, quarterbacks have been too tough to pass up. The past five Heisman winners have been QBs.

Reggie Bush is a good bet to snap that streak tonight and become the 41st ball carrier to tuck away college football’s most prestigious individual award since Chicago halfback Jay Berwanger won the first in 1935.

USC’s untouchable tailback is the favorite after capping a brilliant junior season with two breathtaking performances and an outrageous average of 8.9 yards per carry.

“That’s crazy. That’s ludicrous,” said Tony Dorsett, the 1976 Heisman winner from Pittsburgh. “It is just unheard of. Reggie’s a gamebreaker, a big-game player. That’s all you need to say.”

Guess where Dorsett’s vote is going?

Bush will be joined by Texas quarterback Vince Young and USC quarterback Matt Leinart in midtown Manhattan when the Heisman is handed out for the 71st time.

Heisman hopefuls

Reggie Bush, USC, running back

Class: Junior. Ht.: 6-0. Wt: 200.

2005 highlights: Rushed for 1,658 yards on only 203 attempts, an average of 8.9 yards per carry. He also had 17 touchdowns — 15 rushing — and led the nation in all-purpose yards with an average of 217 per game. Bush had his biggest games against Notre Dame, Fresno State and UCLA, which were USC’s biggest games.

Vince Young, Texas, quarterback

Class: Junior. Ht.: 6-5. Wt: 233.

2005 highlights: Passed for 2,769 yards, rushed for 850 yards, scored 35 touchdowns and ranked first in the NCAA in passing efficiency (168.56). He also had some marquee games in the Longhorns’ biggest wins, including their early-season victory at Ohio State.

Matt Leinart, USC, quarterback

Class: Senior. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 225.

2005 highlights: Passing up the opportunity to enter the NFL draft last spring, Leinart passed for 3,450 yards and 27 touchdowns in his senior season. But he threw for only four TDs in USC’s three biggest games. He had a passing efficiency rating of 158.29.

The three finalists were the favorites even before the season started.

Leinart, last year’s Heisman winner, became a contender to repeat as soon as he decided to bypass the chance for NFL millions and return for his senior season. The left-hander has thrown for 3,450 yards and 27 touchdowns this season, improving to 37-1 as a starter for the top-ranked Trojans.

If Leinart wins the Heisman, he’ll join Archie Griffin as the only players to win the award twice. The Ohio State running back did it in 1974 and ’75.

As a past winner, Leinart gets to cast a ballot.

“Reggie’s got my vote,” Leinart said after Bush ran for 260 yards and two touchdowns in the Trojans’ 66-19 victory over UCLA that wrapped up a perfect regular season.

If Bush wins the award, he and Leinart will become the third set of teammates to win the award in consecutive years.

The last were Army’s famous Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis, in 1945 and ’46.

And the two USC stars could become the first Heisman winners to play together in a college game when USC (12-0) meets No. 2 Texas (12-0) in the Rose Bowl for the national title on Jan. 4.

Or if Young wins, the national-title game will be a matchup of Heisman winners for the second straight year — and the second time ever.

Last season after Leinart won the award, USC played Oklahoma and 2004 Heisman winner Jason White in the Orange Bowl, marking the first Heisman showdown in college football.

Young has always been one of the most dangerous runners in the country — he showed that in last year’s Rose Bowl, scoring four touchdowns on the ground against Michigan — but this season he has developed into a top-flight passer. The junior leads the nation in passing efficiency at 168.6 with 26 touchdown passes.

He would be Texas’ third Heisman winner. The first two were running backs. Ricky Williams won it in 1998 and Earl Campbell (’77) was part of that long run of Heisman running backs, starting in 1973 with Penn State fullback Cappelletti and ending with Nebraska tailback Rozier.

In between, USC cemented its reputation as Tailback U. with Charles White (’79) and Marcus Allen (’81) joining O.J. Simpson (’68) and Mike Garrett (’65) as Heisman winners.

USC has gotten back in the Heisman-winning business in recent years with quarterbacks. Carson Palmer took the award in 2002, then Leinart last season.

With six Heisman winners, the Trojans trail only Notre Dame, which has seven.


• Defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz was appointed the interim replacement for ousted Colorado coach Gary Barnett and will lead the team against Clemson in the Champs Sports Bowl on Dec. 27 in Orlando, Fla.

• NFL Hall of Famer James Lofton is interested in the coaching vacancy at San Diego State. Lofton has been the San Diego Chargers’ receivers coach for four seasons.

• East Stroudsburg quarterback Jimmy Terwilliger received the Harlon Hill Trophy as the nation’s top Division II player. He passed for 4,571 yards and 50 touchdowns this season — including nine TD passes in a 66-49 win over C.W. Post.

• A record crowd will see Brigham Young play California in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 22. The game at Sam Boyd Stadium has sold out for the first time in its 14-year history, organizers said.

• Offensive coordinator Tom Kearly was hired as Michigan Tech’s head coach.