In the gathering gloom of a 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech last year at Ohio Stadium, Ohio State receiver Michael Thomas at least provided a ray of hope. With just over three minutes left in the third quarter, he snagged a slant pass from J.T. Barrett and ran through a tackle attempt on a 53-yard touchdown that cut OSU's deficit to seven.

In the gathering gloom of a 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech last year at Ohio Stadium, Ohio State receiver Michael Thomas at least provided a ray of hope.

With just over three minutes left in the third quarter, he snagged a slant pass from J.T. Barrett and ran through a tackle attempt on a 53-yard touchdown that cut OSU's deficit to seven. It was the first glimpse that Thomas would become a force for the Buckeyes, as their leading receiver, on the way to the national championship.

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The Buckeyes have needed a ray of hope this preseason, too. Three players from the receiving corps have been suspended for the opener on Monday at Virginia Tech, and up-and-coming Noah Brown suffered a season-ending leg injury last week. In a suddenly very inexperienced group, Thomas is the beacon.

Not that he is concerned.

"I feel the guys that know they need to step up are excited for a chance, an opportunity come Monday night," Thomas said.

One player said to be champing at the bit is Braxton Miller, the former quarterback who is listed as the co-starter at hybrid back with Curtis Samuel.

"I feel he's real hungry," Thomas said of Miller, a close friend.

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Whether Miller will be able to use his elusiveness and speed to make a play is unknown, but he likely will get several opportunities. Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson, the top two H-backs last season, are suspended for the game, along with receiver Corey Smith, for violations of athletic department policy.

"My man Mike Thomas, he's helped me out a lot," Miller said. "This is a big transition."

But Miller has made the changeover, Thomas said, and perhaps just in time.

"I see a guy who's gone from not really knowing what to do to now just coming along great," Thomas said. "I feel he's ready to show it Monday, also."

That Thomas and the Buckeyes need Miller and others to perform is an understatement. On the depth chart released on Tuesday, in the receiver slot opposite Thomas, the listing showed sophomore James Clark or redshirt freshmen Johnnie Dixon or Terry McLaurin, meaning none of those relatively unknown players has locked down the spot.

But Thomas claims inside knowledge.

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"All of those guys, they've had great fall camps," he said. "I feel Monday we'll be able to show everyone."

Coach Urban Meyer believes the same.

"Those kinds of kids are great kids," Meyer said. "So I think they're going to be ready to go."

They all will be walking into what promises to be a frenzied atmosphere at Virginia Tech's 66,233-seat Lane Stadium, known nationwide for the din when the visitors have the ball. But Miller, Samuel, Clark, Dixon and McLaurin are known for their confidence within the team, something Thomas believes will serve them well.

"I feel they'll handle it great," Thomas said. "Every day at Ohio State we go against a great defense in practice. I feel, for them Monday night, they'll just be able to show everyone."

tmay@dispatch.com

@TIM_MAYsports