The burning sports question around town lately seems to be: How can Miami be ranked ahead of BYU on the wire-service polls?

Miami has two losses, and one of them was to BYU; the Cougars have one loss. By all conventional poll logic, BYU should be ranked in front of the Hurricanes. But in this week's Associated Press poll, BYU was ranked fourth and Miami second.Apparently, the sportswriters who vote in the AP poll are using different criteria than simply who-beat-who in making their choices. And in talking to voters, the Deseret News found that while Miami is getting more votes than BYU, it is by no means a unanimous decision.

Most of the Miami supporters said they based their decision on the 'Canes tougher schedule.

"What Miami has done overall weighs more heavily than that one loss (to BYU)," said John Akers of the San Jose Mercury News. "Besides, this shouldn't come down to individual games."

Individual games have meant a lot in the past, however. Last year, Miami won the national title over Notre Dame on the strength of its victory over the Irish, though the teams finished with one loss each.

Reminded of that, Akers admitted that last week he had BYU ranked over Miami, for that very reason. Asked what changed his mind this week, he said it wasn't BYU's 45-22 victory over Utah or Miami's 42-12 win over Boston College. Rather, it was "the whole picture."

A voter from the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock, Paul Borden, also said he recently changed his vote to move Miami ahead of BYU, again citing the "whole picture" explanation. The implication is that while the Cougars have stomped on a string of Western Athletic Conference opponents in recent weeks, they actually hurt their national reputation.

Paul Bowker of the Rock Hill, S.C., Herald said the timing of BYU's win over Miami, coming as it did in Miami's season-opener, influenced his decision to vote the 'Canes two spots higher. "If Brigham Young had played Miami last Saturday and beaten them, Brigham Young might be looking at a national championship," Bowker said.

Ed Sherman of the Chicago Tribune said he can't vote Miami ahead of BYU after the 'Canes did so much protesting last season about deserving the title for beating Notre Dame in head-to-head competition. Since they established the criteria, they should be willing to live by it, he reasoned.

Besides, said Sherman, who was in the Cougar Stadium pressbox the night BYU beat Miami, "I've seen the Hurricanes play three times and they lost twice. I haven't been that impressed."

He's been so unimpressed, in fact, that he picked Miami 8th. That low vote got Sherman a complaint call from Miami Athletic Director Sam Jankovich, a tactic apparently not uncommon as big-time schools lobby for big-time rankings.

"I'm surprised the BYU people haven't been raising much of a fuss," Sherman said. "They certainly have a right."

Ivan Maisel of the Dallas Morning News said he had Miami ranked second last week and BYU eighth, but when Notre Dame lost he "threw everything out and started from scratch." After looking at schedules and head-to-head meetings and everything else he could think of, Maisel ranked the Top 5 this way: Colorado, Texas, Georgia Tech, BYU and Miami.

Maisel guessed that BYU might be getting hurt by a lack of votes from sportswriters at smaller media outlets. "I can't prove that," he said, "but it's a fact the guys at the larger papers actually attend more games and see more of the top teams. It's just a case of our travel budgets being better."

"There's been an injustice done, hasn't there?" said Slim Smith, sports editor of the Biloxi, Miss., Sun Herald. "I think BYU has a legitimate complaint." Smith, who voted the Cougars ahead of the 'Canes, speculated that BYU suffers "because poll voters don't have much respect for the teams they play."

Votes were as mixed among poll voters who cover the WAC as among the national group. Bob Hammond of the Laramie, Wyo., Boomerang gave BYU one of its two first-place votes, while Ralph Routon of the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph and Phil Casaus of the Albuquerque Journal rated Miami higher.

Routon said Miami-BYU was a close call, "almost like a coin toss," and noted that he gave Miami the edge because he puts less stock in road losses and September losses. Reminded that BYU's lone loss was in September and on the road, he said, "Well, when it comes right down to it you have to make a call, and that's the way I called it."

Casaus takes something of a unique approach, basing his vote in part on a team's future schedule - as if his vote now were to reflect what he feels will be the final rankings.

"I guess the one thing I was disappointed in is that BYU isn't playing a tougher opponent in the Holiday Bowl," he said. In other words, if he ranks BYU higher and they win easily against a low-ranked opponent, he might feel more obligation to vote them national champions.

Hammond said he felt it was a toss-up for No. 1 between BYU and Georgia Tech, so he went with the WAC team. "I feel this year's BYU team is better than the national championship team," he said. "If I didn't think they were deserving, I wouldn't put them up there.

Hammond said he didn't consider Colorado for No. 1 because of the infamous fifth-down play in the Missouri game. "I don't care what anybody says, Colorado has tied once and lost twice," he asserted. "On the field they were beaten, and they got an extra down, and that's all there is to it."

One thing all the voters agreed on - this is the toughest season ever for determining who should be ranked where.

"This has been the most convoluted, chaotic year," Smith said. "I don't know how much validity the poll can have. I would almost defy anyone to say who the best team in the country is."

Sherman summed it up more tersely: "This is nuts."


AP Poll

The Top 10 teams in the Associated Press 1990 college football poll, with first-place votes in parentheses, and last week's rankings:

1. Colorado(45) 10-1-1 1,476 2

2. Miami, Fla.(3) 7-2-0 1,344 3

3. Ga. Tech(8) 9-0-1 1,333 4

4. BYU(2) 9-1-0 1,263 5

5. Florida (1) 9-1-0 1,229 6

6. Texas (1) 8-1-0 1,228 7

7. Notre Dame 8-2-0 1,113 1

8. Florida St. 8-2-0 1,060 9

9. Washington 9-2-0 1,043 10

10. Nebraska 9-1-0 926 11