— They fell 107 seconds short on Labor Day. Then, five days later, fell off the map.
Virginia Tech was done. Or so it seemed.
After putting all their eggs into Boise State's basket and getting kicked in the gut when the Broncos pulled out a 33-30 victory in the final moments, the Hokies compounded their problems by dropping their next game.
It wasn't just any game. It was a home game and the opponent was James Madison. The Dukes' 21-16 victory was utterly unthinkable, rivaling Appalachian State's 34-32 shocker at Michigan to open the 2007 season.
At that point, it was almost as if redemption wasn't even an option. Not only had a shot at the BCS title gone up in smoke, so had Virginia Tech's reputation, along with the Atlantic Coast Conference's credibility.
The Hokies, however, hung tough and replaced the heartache with manageable rumination.
Today, in typical Virginia Tech fashion, they're undercover — and climbing toward the top.
With eight consecutive victories, the 15th-ranked Hokies (8-2, 6-0 in ACC) have valiantly fought their way back from the scrap heap.
They're on track to secure their third trip to the Bowl Championship Series in the last four years and have an outside shot at returning to the Top 10 if they can get to the Orange Bowl and win it.
Assuming that the regular-season finale at home against Virginia is a layup, Virginia Tech can lock up the ACC's Coastal Division title on Saturday with a win at Miami (Fla.).
Who would have thought that to be possible on Sept. 11, after James Madison methodically drained the final 5:23 off the clock while a horrified Lane Stadium looked on?
Before you shrug off running a table populated by ACC foes, consider how the Texas Longhorns are feeling this season. Or the Florida Gators. Both those teams were ranked within the preseason Top 5 and would give anything for an eight-game winning streak, or in Texas' case, something even half as long.
Although he must assume responsibility for the lifeless effort against James Madison, Frank Beamer deserves a ton of credit for getting Virginia Tech back in business. But we shouldn't be so surprised. He's coached the Hokies to at least 10 wins in each of the previous six seasons (and nine of the past 11).
Adding to the impressiveness of the turnaround is the fact that it came with little assistance from star tailback Ryan Williams. After getting 20 carries in each of the first two games, Williams injured his right hamstring in the Hokies' first victory of the season, a 49-27 decision over East Carolina. He sat out the next four games and didn't get more than seven carries in a game until last Saturday's impressive 26-10 victory at North Carolina.
Senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor picked up the slack and has quietly put together one of college football's best seasons. His latest performance saw him pass for 249 yards and a two second-half touchdowns to lead Virginia Tech past the Tar Heels, who had won six of their previous seven games and had designs on challenging the Hokies for the Coastal crown.
Taylor ranks first in the ACC in passing efficiency (ninth in the nation) and is second in total offense, averaging 257 yards per game.
Although not as dominating as some of its previous units, the Virginia Tech defense has been sufficiently stingy. The Hokies have only given up more than 21 points once in their last seven games, highlighted by a 19-0 shutout at Boston College on Sept. 25.
Boise State has been cheering Virginia Tech along week after week.
After the Hokies crashed and burned versus James Madison, it seemed as if the Broncos had lost a great deal of equity. Ever since it agreed to play Virginia Tech in Landover, Md., Boise State looked at that season opener as being the lynchpin of a resume that would carry them to a special season.
To see it go up in smoke due to something totally outside of their control was painful for the Broncos.
But Virginia Tech built back its — and Boise State's — reputation, week after week.
Much to TCU's chagrin, the Hokies could end up being the reason Boise State edges out the Horned Frogs for the non-automatic qualifying berth in the BCS, which could very well be to the big one in Glendale, Ariz.
James Madison, on the other hand, hasn't been able to parlay its victory over Virginia Tech into anything. The Dukes are 5-5, including a 2-5 mark in Colonial Athletic Association.
It just goes further to show that one game — or two — doesn't characterize a season.