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Published: Thursday, 12/7/2006

Smith books trip to New York early

ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK - Troy Smith booked his trip to the Heisman Trophy ceremony before the invitations went out.

Why wait?

Smith, the heavy favorite to win college football's most prestigious award, was selected as a Heisman finalist yesterday, along with Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn and Arkansas running back Darren McFadden.

"First and foremost, I'm very, very anxious about it," Smith said earlier this week. "This is my first time in New York, so I'm excited about that. I'm sure all the festivities that I will partake in are going to be overwhelming."

The senior quarterback entered the season with plenty of Heisman hype and then backed it up with brilliant play for the unbeaten Buckeyes.

Smith is fourth in the nation in passer rating (167.9) with 2,507 yards, 30 touchdown passes and only five interceptions. He might be the biggest reason No. 1 Ohio State will play No. 2 Florida for the national title on Jan. 8 in Glendale, Ariz.

Quinn, a senior, was fourth in Heisman voting last season and has thrown 35 touchdown passes in 2006. McFadden, a sophomore, scored 16 touchdowns and led Arkansas to the Southeastern Conference title game.

For the second year in a row, only three players were invited to New York for the ceremony. Last year, it was Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart from Southern California, and Texas quarterback Vince Young.

Heisman spokesman Tim Henning said the invitees are determined by percentage of votes received, and the Heisman Trophy Trust prepares for as many as six players to be invited.

Smith grabbed the lead in the Heisman race early this season. In Ohio State's first No. 1 vs. No. 2 game this year, he threw for 269 yards and two scores against Texas. He was even better in the Buckeyes' second 1-2 game, throwing for 316 yards and four touchdowns in the regular-season finale against Michigan.

Smith is trying to become the sixth player from Ohio State to win the Heisman and first since running back Eddie George in 1995. It would be the seventh time a Buckeye came away with it. Ohio State's Archie Griffin is the only two-time Heisman winner.

If Quinn pulls the upset, he'd be the eighth player from Notre Dame to win, which would break a tie with USC as the school with the most. Tim Brown was the last Fighting Irish winner, taking home the trophy in 1987.

Smith or Quinn could become the first senior to win the Heisman since USC quarterback Carson Palmer in 2002.

Last season, Bush was the third consecutive junior Heisman winner and third USC player to win it in four years. Leinart won it the year before Bush.

Quinn holds 30 Notre Dame records and entered this season, like Smith, a Heisman front-runner.

He played poorly in Notre Dame's 47-21 loss to Michigan in September, throwing three interceptions and losing a fumble, but bounced back to have another big season.

He has thrown for 3,278 yards and only five interceptions, leading the Fighting Irish to a 10-2 record and a berth in the Sugar Bowl. The Heisman might go to Smith, but Quinn is being talked about as a possible first overall pick in the NFL draft.

McFadden's season started slowly. He injured his toe in a fight outside a night club in July and began the season hobbled. When he was healthy, he was the focal point of one of the country's biggest surprise teams. He finished the regular season with a school-record 1,558 yards rushing for the SEC West champions.



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