Randy Moss & FSU… What Could Have Been?
This week I set some time aside to watch ESPN’s latest 30 for 30 documentary: “Rand University.” I generally enjoy these films, as they often provide both an entertaining and enlightening perspective on athletes and teams. I even enjoyed the famous “The U” film in the series. My only gripe with the series is that the name no longer fits… we are well past the 30th anniversary for ESPN, and certainly past 30 films in the series. Regardless, the films have generally been good, and its most recent installment was solid.
The part of the film I had the most interest in was of course his brief stint at FSU. If you know your college football or watched the film you know that Randy Moss’ was not permitted to attend Notre Dame for being involved in a fight where is friend beat up a kid who allegedly left some racially charged comments for Moss’ friend. As a result of this fight he was charged with a felony (reduced to a misdemeanor), and sentenced to 30 days in jail which was served under a work release program in 1996. Despite signing his letter of intent to the Irish he was allowed to go to FSU in 1995, and had to sit out that season as a redshirt freshman. As the film recounts he regularly burned great FSU defensive backs in practice, and even recorded the second highest 40 time in school history… only behind Prime Time himself. Unfortunately, as a result of smoking some “herbal remedies” during his work release in 1996, he was kicked out of FSU.
It was at this point of the film I began to participate in a common practice among many Seminole fans, which is to wonder: “What could have been, if Randy stayed out of trouble and remained a Nole?” Trust me when I tell you, that any FSU fans over 25 will discuss this scenario amongst themselves at least once a season. Even Lebron James lamented on the fact that Moss could not continue his FSU career beyond being a redshirt freshman.
So how different would history have been if Moss was able to play as a Nole through the late 90’s? I mean, he is just a wide receiver, right? Well… yes and no. Yes, he is just a wide receiver, but he is not just any wide receiver. Remember what he did on the field in college and NFL throughout the late 90’s. As a wide receiver at Marshall, his next stop after FSU, he was a top 4 finalist for the 1997 Heisman. You know, the Heisman race with the most stacked finalists in modern history with likely three future NFL Hall of Famers in it (Woodson, Manning, Moss… and well yeah Leaf was the black sheep in that bunch). Side Note/Trivia Question: Is there another group of Heisman Finalists that can match that season?
Once Moss was done with college, he left early for the NFL. In 1998 he proceeded to turn a regular wild card caliber team of the Vikings under Green, into a Super Bowl caliber team. If you doubt me, look at what he did in that year. His numbers were staggering, the team was 15-1 in the regular season, and he was essentially the only major addition to an established team. If it was not for a major upset by the Falcons, I think Elway may have one less ring on his finger. Does anyone doubt that the 1998 Vikings would match up a heck of a lot better against the Broncos than the Dirty Bird Falcons?
During this same time FSU was in its Golden Era. From 1996 to 1999, what could have been Moss’ four years of playing time at FSU, the Noles had just 4 losses. Also, the school effectively played in 3 national titles games (96, 98, 99), and in 1997 FSU only lost on the road at the Swamp or it would have been 4 straight shots at the title in Bowl games (actually 5 because the 2000 team also went to the title game… of course there is no way Moss could have played that year). FSU also had its wire to wire national title run in 1999.
Now, perhaps Moss would not have stayed all five years (including the redshirt 95 season), after all he did leave Marshall after the 1997 season in reality. I tend to think he would have a hard time leaving such elite teams that winning titles, and a major reason he likely left Marshall was the fact that at the time he was trying to get out of the state of West Virginia. Remember he never considered WVU as an option (if you want to ever piss off a Mountaineer… just say Randy Moss), and looked to schools in other states. So, I tend to believe he would have played the full 4 non-redshirt seasons at FSU, but I am also a biased Seminole fan… so yeah.
In considering how much better FSU would have been in the 4 years of 1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999, one has to look at the players on those teams. The defenses, which were elite during that era, would be the same, so we will only focus on the offenses. In 1996 a solid QB in Thad Busby would be throwing him the ball, and the best there never was Dan Kendra (look up this guy’s story, talk about could have beens) would also throw some balls that season. Warrick Dunn was the running back that year. Peter Warrick and EG Green would have been fellow receivers. In 1997 you would have a much improved Busby, Minor at running back, and Laveranues Coles/Warrick/Ron Dugans/Snoop Minis as fellow receivers. In 1998 you would have the same teammates, but Weinke would be QB. In 1999 it would again be the same team, minus Coles most of the year, and add a young Anquan Boldin. In a nutshell, you would have some stacked offenses, with the current UGA coach calling the plays.
So let us look at the individual seasons, specifically the losses, to see how much difference Randy Moss would have made. FSU went unbeaten during the 1996 team then was blown out in the 1997 Sugar Bowl in a rematch against UF. Odds are Moss is not worth 32 points in that Sugar Bowl, but one has to wonder if Moss played in that last regular season game at FSU against the UF team if it would have led to a much bigger win. FSU only won by 3 against unbeaten number 1 UF in that game. If Moss plays, I think FSU likely wins by at least 10, probably 17, if not 24 points. You have to remember FSU jumped out to a 17-0 lead in that game, and Moss is the exactly the big play guy who could continue to put the pressure on and not letting UF back in the game. If FSU wins by 17 or 24 points it likely drops UF much further than 4th before its Alabama game, and it is unlikely UF could jump up to 3 before the Sugar Bowl. In that case, perhaps UF doesn’t get a rematch against FSU in the Sugar Bowl. Generally Bowls hate rematches, but the 1996 regular season UF vs. FSU game was such a classic I am sure organizers didn’t mind the rematch that year. Well if FSU destroys UF in that last regular season game, odds are FSU is facing a different opponent that bowl season. ASU was unbeaten, but was going to the Rose Bowl due to the Pac 12 tie-in. The likely team FSU would face then would have been Nebraska or maybe BYU (yeah they were good then). FSU would likely match up well against both teams, and with ASU losing the Rose Bowl, FSU wins another title. I will admit of all the seasons in play, this is the one least likely to have been greatly aided by Randy Moss playing.
1997 is where the fun would really begin. FSU only lost by 3 on the road to UF that season. I have to believe if Moss plays, that is a Seminole win. FSU was number 1 going into that game, and likely remains number 1 with a win. That would mean they would have the inside track to a championship game against other unbeaten teams. That regular season would have had three unbeaten teams, Michigan (3), Nebraska (2), and FSU (1). In that scenario odds are FSU plays Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, instead of going to the Sugar Bowl. That Nebraska squad was good, but struggled with an okay Missouri team that season. I think FSU wins that game, and probably gets a share if not takes the title outright from fellow unbeaten Michigan. Remember, Michigan only played Washington State, not even a top 5 team.
1998 would add Weinke as QB, and FSU’s second ACC loss. NCSU would upset FSU by 17 early in the season, so odds are Moss does not make enough of a difference for a different score. Despite the upset, FSU would go on to play in the first BCS National Title game against Tennessee thanks in large part to one of the craziest finishes to a regular season in history. FSU only lost to Tennessee by one score in that game, and the Volunteers were arguably one of the worst teams to have ever won the title. I think Randy Moss gets FSU another title that season.
Obviously FSU won it all without a loss in 1999, but could you imagine how much better an already elite offense would be with Moss? The Virginia Tech game would not have even bewn close. Weinke would have had an even more impressive season.
Perhaps history works out the same with Moss playing, but I think he is good for at least one more title at FSU. If Moss plays and maxes out his college career at FSU, the Seminoles likely have at least 1, and maybe as much as 3 more titles. FSU could very well be a three-peat or even a four-peat champion, and 5 straight title appearances. How different would have the 2000’s been with that legacy? Would recruiting have been better? Maybe not different, but I would have loved to have witnessed the games in the late 90’s with Moss as a player. I especially would have liked to have witnessed how much fun that offense would have been to watch. Of course, this pondering is nothing more than fantasy, but hey isn’t that part of being a fan?