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Column: On the verge of victory or chaos?

And we begin again. Although, this year is quite different from last.

Two items right off the bat should turn heads. Two stories that fall on opposite ends of the spectrum but could potentially alter the shape of USF’s future: Sami Al-Arian and Sooner football.

First, the most crucial story of the year, maybe ever, for USF. It all started Sept. 26 when Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly,reminded school administrators about a certain computer science and engineering professor’s shady past.

Two days later, Sami Al-Arian is suspended. Three months later, the Board of Trustees, while school is out of session, moves to fire him. And after eight months of mulling over whether to proceed with his firing, USF President Judy Genshaft decides it’s not her place and passes the buck to a state judge.

Al-Arian’s lawyers, though, have moved to have the case heard by a federal judge. So now, while the case lingers in the court system, the black cloud of alleged terrorist support and dense smog of supposed constitutional injustice will continue to cover the campus. Wonderful.

Last week, Al-Arian was doing an interview with Phil Donahue on MSNBC, while Connie Chung on CNN dedicated a good portion of her news show in the same timeslot to USF’s problematic professor., and all boasted front page stories on their Web sites, as well.

And The Oracle, in only its second edition of the semester, has dedicated considerable space to the issue.

It’s USF that’s making national hedlines on almost a daily basis these days. But is this how we want to emerge from the shadows of the Noles, Gators and Canes? You know, turn that Florida university powerhouse trio into a quartet. Will this notoriety convince Foot Locker to stock our green and gold jerseys?

It won’t.

But this will – we need to beat Oklahoma. Scratch that. We don’t even need to win, we just need to compete. On what will probably be our biggest national stage ever, against arguably the best college football team on the planet, we need a proverbial goal-line stand, essentially, not losing 35-0. We need Marquel to shine. We need a couple of USF fans to poke through the sea of red and white, hold up cool signs and get on SportsCenter.

We need a Miracle on Ice, gridiron style.

This is where USF should make a name for itself. Gain its national identity on the football field. Divert some of the attention away from Judy Genshaft and Sami Al-Arian, and then maybe more people will recognize its stronghold in academia. Maybe more will realize it is the thirteenth largest school in the country. Maybe more will notice that many of the buildings that are sprouting up like weeds on the west side of campus are part of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, the number 10 cancer center in the country, according to U.S. News and World Report.

But only time will tell. Will this university garner national attention in a federal court, where it is almost destined to lose? Will it attract attention if, sometime in the future, Al-Arian is actually arrested and charged with a crime? (Keep your fingers crossed, President Genshaft).

Or will it gain its fame on a football field in Oklahoma?

Terrorist connections, breaches of academic freedom and the Sooners.

How about beating all three?

Ryan Meehan is The Oracle’s editor.