Barnett was going to be the one to break all the UC receiving records.
And then, he wasn't.
The past two years have been perplexing for Barnett. He knows his talent is still there. He knows he can return to his old habits of catching passes and scoring touchdowns. But he needs another chance - to prove he can be the player coach Butch Jones wants him to be on the field and to prove he can be the person Jones wants him to be off the field.
"It's a work in progress," Jones said. "I'm excited, but as he'll tell you, there's nowhere to hide in our program, from going to class to being on time for treatments and meetings and being out early and working. He's done a good job so far, but we're going to continue to drive him each and every day. He has a lot of ability and we've seen that in the past."
Yes, we have.
two touchdown passes and gained 210 receiving yards vs.
Between Barnett, Mardy Gilyard and Dominick Goodman, that trio was going to be one of the best receiving corps in Bearcats history. Then, Barnett disappeared. It was clear former coach Brian Kelly and Barnett were on different wavelengths, and he didn't have much impact his sophomore season, catching 30 passes for 277 yards and just one score.
Then, Kelly and his staff decided to try something different last year. They decided to move Barnett to cornerback.
"I didn't look at it that it wasn't a good thing, because a new opportunity is always a good thing," Barnett said. "I always looked at it as half-full. It was an opportunity to display my talents on the other side of the ball, which so few people get to do at this level. I looked at it as a blessing in disguise.
"I respected coach for doing that. He had trust in me on both sides of the ball. Being a utility guy, you're going to have to move all around the offense and, in my case, move to defense. I looked at that as a good thing."
Originally, the coaches moved him to the secondary last spring to help replace the lost trio of Mike Mickens, DeAngelo Smith and Brandon Underwood. But before fall practice began, he was switched back to offense. Then, with Dominique Battle injured, Barnett started the Fresno State game at cornerback and performed well, recording a couple tackles and breaking up a pass while participating in 75 plays on defense.
His dalliance on defense didn't last long, though, and he moved back to receiver, finishing the season with 10 catches for 95 yards.
"The last two years were pretty confusing, going from offense to defense," Barnett said. "It's a learning experience, a humbling experience. It was confusing and tough and a mental challenge. Some people could have packed it up and left, but I'm here to continue to do what the team needs to do."
His new mission: make a huge impact on offense - just like he managed his freshman season. The stability of one man, one position should help.
"No question," Jones said. "Repping it over and over and over again and staying on him, that will enable him to concentrate on one position. That will help him. I expect him to be a great contributor. He's played a lot of football here. He's a senior, and we expect him to be a great leader and set a great example as a senior would. I have great expectations for him. Every day he knows my expectations, because I tell him every day."
Barnett has responded.
"Mindset-wise, I'm at the point where every day counts, every rep counts, every catch counts," he said. "Everything is counted toward me and my aspirations of going to the next level. I have to do everything possible within my means so I can help the team out this year and hopefully take the next step toward the next level."