In a media poll released yesterday in East Rutherford, N.J., Miami was tabbed the favorite in football this year in the Big East conference with 185 points and 17 first-place votes, and Virginia Tech followed with 172 points and seven first-place votes. Defending champion Syracuse (137) and West Virginia (122) round out the top four.

"It's exciting and we feel good about our program," said Miami Hurricanes Coach Butch Davis, who spent his first four seasons digging out the former national champion from the ruins of probation. "It's been a painful process the last four years, especially for the seniors who we signed leading into probation. It's kind of satisfying to see that maybe they'll get some rewards for that perseverance."

Miami has 19 starters returning, including 10 on defense, from a team that went 9-3 and won the Micron PC Bowl. Davis said the defense is at its best since he has been at Miami. The coach has faith that sophomore quarterback Kenny Kelly can lead the offense in his first year as a starter.

Despite that optimism, Davis said he was surprised to be chosen No. 1 because, "Virginia Tech is the team to beat. They've got an awful lot of players coming back and we've never beaten them in my four years here."

The Hokies are used to being overlooked, but have learned to live with it.

"We're elated; we've never been picked better than third," said Coach Frank Beamer, who has 15 starters returning from a 9-3 team that won the Music City Bowl.

"People feel different about us now than they did five years ago and hopefully, in five years to come they'll feel even better about us," he said.

Beamer is putting his offense in the hands of highly touted redshirt freshman Mike Vick. Defensively, the Hokies have the returning Big East defensive player of the year with end Corey Moore, who led the league with 13 1/2 sacks last year.

NAVY SCHEDULE ANNOUNCED: The Navy men's basketball team will play 17 of its 27 regular season games at Alumni Hall next season, including consecutive home games against Wake Forest and Richmond in late November. The Midshipmen, who released their 1999-2000 schedule yesterday, open at Rice Nov. 19.

After finishing 20-7 last season, the Midshipmen have been picked to finish second in the Patriot League in a preseason coaches' poll. The team will begin practicing next week for a seven-game European tour, Aug. 7-17.