Navy sophomores Bob Misch and Bill Byrne were talking at dinner Tuesday night about the academy's quarterbacks, a couple of guys they know quite well.

"You know," Byrne said to Misch, who is Navy's starting quarterback, "we're going to do this again next season. We'll go into next spring equal and, no matter what either of us does, we'll go into fall just like this."

Misch, who was retelling the story this afternoon, agreed.

"We knew it would be close, and it will be close again. It will be just like this."

Just like this? Coach Gary Tranquill may not be able to take it.

The clearest reflection of the Midshipmen's schizophrenic 4-5-1 season, which will end Saturday against Army (6-3-1) at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, can be found in the quarterback situation.

Misch started fall practice as the No. 1 quarterback. Byrne was sixth, but passed Misch and the other four and started the first eight games of the season. Then Byrne, who already had broken the school record for touchdown passes in a season (11), broke something else -- his right fibula -- in an 18-17 loss to Notre Dame Nov. 3. Misch, No. 2 since the season began, became No. 1.

That gets you up to date. Well, mostly.

Since we last left these two, following the stunning 38-21 upset of then-No. 2 South Carolina, Misch hasn't lost his job, but Byrne is gaining on him. Byrne is back at practice, "hobbling," said Tranquill, but "throwing well.

"He's still a little bit gimpy, but if we have to use him, he'll play."

Misch, of course, still is first string and will start against Army. His patience was rewarded when he took over the job when Byrne was injured in the third quarter of the Notre Dame game with Navy leading, 14-7.

Then, Navy hit rock bottom. The Midshipmen watched the Irish come back to beat them on a controversial last-minute field goal. The following week, Syracuse defeated Navy, 29-0. In the teeth of a heavy rush, Misch was pressured all day and sacked six times, and Navy gained only 113 total yards.

But then, with Byrne, one of his best friends, watching in a sweatsuit from the sideline, Misch completed 10 of 21 passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns in the South Carolina upset.

When you're a midshipman, it's easy to give up South Carolina for Army. Tranquill has been giving the usual pep talks the last two weeks. "We know they have incentives," Misch said, ticking off the five Navy victories and one tie in the past six games and Army's first-ever bowl appearance (against Michigan State in the Cherry Bowl). Navy's season will end Saturday.

"Coach T said the other day, 'Do you guys have incentive?' " Misch's answer? "We're burning up inside."