30 Aug 1997: Wide receiver Randy Moss #88 of the Marshall Thundering Herd carries to football during the Thundering Herd 42-31 loss to the West Virginia Moutaineers at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, West Virginia. (Rick Stewart /Allsport)
I actually feel a bit hypocritical putting Moss on this list. About three separate times since I began doing these pieces, I have almost written something about the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers. They were the epitome of what I thought a college football team was supposed to be: bigger than you, stronger than you, faster than you, more well-conditioned than you, and full of I-formation perfection. But every time I think about writing about them, I remember Lawrence Phillips and the Peter brothers (and all the other shady characters). And I remember how Tom Osborne consciously went after players of shaky character and morality because he knew his late-1980s and early-1990s teams weren't fast enough to compete with the Miami's and Florida State's of the world. He welcomed people like Phillips into the program and punished them minimally when they were accused of wrongdoings (mostly against women, it seemed), and ... ugh, it just ruins the whole thing for me. And unlike Tim Layden, I cannot rationalize it away by telling myself "Yeah, but there were a lot of good guys on those teams too." That was never the point.
(UPDATE: Since it appears this is getting some hits from Husker sites, let me be very clear: in the way that someone from a rival school can love an opposing team, I loved that 1995 Nebraska team. As should be evident by the "epitome of what I thought a college football team was supposed to be" line above. But every time I want to heap praise on them -- and since I, completely umprompted, mentioned them in a post about Randy Moss, the urge is clearly there -- Phillips ruins it for me, as does Osborne's treatment of him. Never mind everybody else, really; this is all about Phillips. There is probably some hindsight involved, of course; if he had never been arrested again, then Osborne's "I don't want to abandon him and cause more harm than good" approach might be praised. But it turned out that he was just scum. And whether Osborne should have kicked him off the team or not, the fact remains that I can't watch the 1995 Orange Bowl or the 1996 Fiesta Bowl without going through this exact thought process: "DAMN, that team was awesome. I should write about them. Oh. Right. Phillips. Oh. Right. Peter brothers." Start your own site and profess all of the love you want for them. You probably already have. I just can't make myself do it here.)
And yet ... I'm including Randy Moss on here. Well, not Moss the Person so much as Moss the Highlight Reel, but it still makes me a bit hypocritical. But here's the difference: Moss was just a damn jerk. An asshole. He didn't drag his girlfriend around or throw her downstairs or do anything worse than get into a fight and smoke pot. In my head, that makes it okay. Or at least okay enough. And then I watch the highlights below, and it makes it really okay. Against 1-AA and mid-major competition at Marshall, Randy Moss was Tecmo Bo Jackson. He was Charlie Kelly versus grade schoolers. He was Usain Bolt. It was simultaneously unfair, beautiful and hilarious. It made me happy enough to ignore flaws that I cannot ignore with others.
Moss caught 174 passes for 3,529 yards and 54 touchdowns ... IN TWO SEASONS. His case makes for one of the most incredible what-ifs in college football history. He signed with Notre Dame but was never admitted after getting into a racially-tinged fight in high school. He ended up at Florida State but was kicked off the team after testing positive for marijuana. If Moss had joined Derrick Mayes in the Notre Dame receiving corps, Ron Powlus may have actually won the multiple Heismans Beano Cook predicted. At Florida State, he could have ended up playing alongside Peter Warrick. It is fascinating to think what may have happened ... but what did happen was pretty fascinating too, wasn't it?