INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Urban Meyer has No. 2 Ohio State in a seemingly perfect spot.
The Buckeyes are 12-0, have won 24 straight and are likely one win away from making their fourth appearance in the BCS title game. They have a potential Heisman Trophy finalist in Braxton Miller, the first 1,000-yard runner of Meyer's coaching career in Carlos Hyde, an offensive line that fits with the Ohio State tradition and an underrated defense that makes all the big plays.
This is a team that heads into the Big Ten title game with flaws and questions and down a starting right guard after Meyer benched Marcus Hall on Friday with a Saturday night showdown against No. 10 Michigan State looming.
"He won't start the game," Meyer said. "Other than that, we'll see what happens. But that's where it's at."
It's the latest twist for a team that has been anything but perfect this season.
Last week, Hall and kick returner Dontre Wilson were ejected after getting involved in a fight with archrival Michigan. Hall responded by throwing his helmet to the ground on the sideline and making an obscene gesture at the Wolverines fans as he walked through the tunnel. On Friday, Meyer said he benched the lineman and will start freshman Pat Elflein.
That's not all.
The doubters contend Ohio State's imperfect resume is filled with victories over mostly bad teams and won a conference in which Top 25 matchups have been rare. This year, the Buckeyes faced only two ranked teams — beating usually strong Wisconsin by a TD at home and a Northwestern squad by 10 on the road, a team that never lived up to the ranking. Some say Saturday night's game will be the biggest challenge of Meyer's two-year tenure in Columbus.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio doesn't see things quite the same way.
A year ago, the Spartans (11-1) fell 17-16 to Ohio State in East Lansing, and this year, Dantonio insists the Buckeyes are improved.
"What you see is an extremely productive offensive football team that is capable of a big play at any point in time, at any given moment, from anywhere on the field," he said. "We've got to be able to control that, work through that. ... They're a very well-coached football team with tremendous players with an X-factor, the X-factor being Braxton Miller, quarterback. That's what makes it so difficult."
Meyer knows better than anyone things don't always go according to the script. Twice at Florida, he won national championships with one-loss teams. Twice, he's finished a season 12-0, at Utah in 2004 and last year with the Buckeyes, and didn't win a title.