CHICAGO — Has it really been five years since commissioner Jim Delany stood at the podium at the Big Ten Conference media day and addressed all the bad things that had befallen Penn State, including the Jerry Sandusky sexual-abuse scandal and harsh NCAA sanctions?
When asked about that Monday, he had a chance to reflect and expound. And he had nothing but good things to say about the university and its storied football program, and how it had come through the many obstacles better than most probably anticipated.
"My first thought [at the time] was we had to embrace Penn State," Delany recalled. "We wanted them to return to health. We wanted them to be part of our conference. But it's been an incredibly difficult road. For the institution, for friends [there], for Joe Paterno's family. We were trying to understand the challenging circumstances we all found ourselves in. The most difficult set of circumstances I've ever had to participate in and assist with.
"Having said that, I can look anybody in the eye and salute Penn State for the progress they've made, the seriousness with which they've treated this issue, the education that has been absorbed, the changes that have been made by various people …
"I think the university is one of the great ones in the country," Delany continued. "I think the culture is one of the great ones in the country. And it's obvious that maybe the least important [consideration] is how good their football team is. But their football team is now healthy, after having come through [the adversity]. They've got great leadership. And we're really happy that they've gotten to the other side, if you will.
"But I don't think anyone forgets about the victims or the circumstances that hurt a lot of people," he concluded. "So it's been tough. But I think we're on the other side."
Twelve players from Big Ten teams have won 13 Heisman trophies (Archie Griffin, of course, is the only one to do it twice, back in the mid-1970s). Six were from Ohio State, the last being quarterback Troy Smith in 2006. He's also the last Big Ten player to get one, and the only one since 1999, when a Big Ten guy was winning for the third time in five years. The only other time the conference went this long without having anyone strike the pose was the years between 1955 and '74.
Fifth-year Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett, who has already accounted for 8,700-plus yards and 100 touchdowns combined passing and rushing, is considered one of the Heisman favorites. But so are Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and QB Trace McSorley, who not shockingly joined Barrett among the conference's 10 preseason honorees (five from each division). The only Heisman winner from Happy Valley was running back John Cappelletti in 1973. The teams will meet Oct. 28 in Columbus, the week after Penn State hosts Michigan. There could be more on the line than first place in the standings.