Borderline perfect during November, Virginia Tech had 33 days to lose its mojo before Thursday night's Chick-fil-A Bowl against Tennessee.
The Hokies smacked the Volunteers 37-14 at the Georgia Dome to close 2009 on a five-game winning streak — the program's longest season-ending run since the 1995 squad won its last 10.
So book Tech for the preseason top 10 and a serious Heisman Trophy campaign in 2010.
Both distinctions will be deserved.
But first, these Hokies.
Ranked 12th entering Thursday, Tech (10-3) figures to crack the final top 10 for the sixth time, all since 1999. The season began here in the Georgia Dome with a disappointing loss to Alabama and included consecutive ACC defeats against Georgia Tech and North Carolina.
But this is how you want to close.
And this is what you expect from a dominant defense — coordinator Bud Foster's bunch did not allow a second-half point in any of the last five games.
And this is the progress you want to witness in your veteran quarterback.
Junior Tyrod Taylor's improvement this year was immeasurable, and his deep connections Thursday with Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin showed uncommon arm strength and touch.
Yet as good as Taylor's been, there's no denying the team's bell cow.
The sight of freshman tailback Ryan Williams limping to the sideline with a third-quarter ankle injury surely caused collective arrhythmia among Tech faithful, but he appeared OK strolling the bench area.
Tailbacks don't often run for 78 yards on a 74-yard drive. But tailbacks don't often come packaged like Williams, surely a Heisman candidate next season.
His third-quarter soliloquy included dashes of 21 and 32 yards and exceeded the drive length because of a false-start penalty against fullback Kenny Jefferson.
In short, no matter how long Williams remains in college before collecting NFL millions — he's not draft-eligible until after next season — he will be remembered as the most skilled back in program history.
The Hokies needed Williams' fifth consecutive 100-yard game (he finished with 117) after Tennessee (7-6) erased a 14-0 deficit.
As usual with Tech's defense this season, the culprit was big plays — in this case passes of 40 yards to Denarius Moore and 47 yards to Montario Hardesty.
But just when you thought the Vols would sprint to the locker room with a 14-14 tie and all the momentum, Taylor threw a perfect pass that Boykin caught for a 63-yard gain. The clock expired on the play, but replay officials restored two seconds, allowing Matt Waldron to kick a go-ahead, 21-yard field goal.
Taylor's perfect strike came on the heels of his two worst plays: He took an unnecessary 9-yard sack on a second down from UT's 31 and then threw an interception that Janzen Jackson returned 29 yards to Tech's 48.
But the first half made clear that Taylor is more versatile and accurate than Tennessee counterpart Jonathan Crompton, and superiority at quarterback is invaluable.
Case in point: Three years ago, the Hokies sauntered into this bowl on a six-game winning streak. They were 10-2, ranked 14th nationally and favored to beat hometown fave Georgia.
And indeed, Tech bolted to a 21-3 halftime advantage, prompting some of us deadline-pressed mongrels to start writing about the Hokies' legitimate national-title hopes for the following season.
But then quarterback Sean Glennon committed a turnover. And another. And another and another. Three picks and a fumble. On consecutive possessions no less.
By the time the carnage ended, Georgia had scored 28 unanswered points against a top-ranked Hokies defense done in by the giveaways.
The final score — Tech managed a late field goal — was 31-24, paralyzing the maroon-and-orange contingent and prompting complete rewrites in the stressed-out press box.
Thursday night was another opportunity for the Hokies to announce themselves as next-season contenders. They played in prime time on New Year's Eve, before the serious shenanigans commenced, and with a youthful depth chart that included an accomplished quarterback, a handful of interchangeable receivers and a tailback for the ages.
Moreover, those weapons were competing against a Tennessee defense coordinated by one of the game's assistant coaching legends, 69-year-old Monte Kiffin, father of Vols head coach Lane Kiffin, who at 34 is the Bowl Subdivision's youngest big whistle.
How would Tech fare?
We know the answer. The Hokies broke a four-game losing streak against Southeastern Conference opponents and ended the ACC's four-game skid in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Most important: They stamped themselves a top-10 team in 2009 capable of much more in 2010.
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime.