Most Important Buckeyes: No. 18
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The first two players on our postseason countdown of the Most Important Buckeyes during a perfect 12-0 season are both newcomers to the list.
That means they weren’t even on our Top 20 radar in the preseason, although Kenny Guiton and Garrett Goebel are both guys who probably should have garnered more consideration than they did.
C. J. Barnett
Photo by Jim Davidson
The next player on list actually took a little tumble in the rankings, at least from where we had him in the preseason. My colleague Tony Gerdeman actually called C.J. Barnett undervalued at No. 12 in our preseason countdown of the Most Important Buckeyes. After all, he did lead the OSU defense in tackles as a redshirt sophomore the previous season.
So how does Barnett end up all the way down at No. 17 on our postseason countdown? Well, we’re glad you asked. Or we did, but either way, Barnett’s junior season was really derailed by a nagging ankle injury.
What Made Him Important?
Despite missing three games because of that high ankle sprain, Barnett still finished fourth on the team in tackles behind Ryan Shazier, Christian Bryant and Bradley Roby. The OSU secondary had its issues this season, particularly early in the year, but the Buckeyes were generally better when No. 4 was back there next to Bryant on the back end.
Even when he was able to play, Barnett never really seemed to be quite himself out there. The ankle forced him to come out of a few other games, but he continued to battle through for this team. He now has over 20 starts in his career with another season yet to be played, and he is one of the more cerebral players on the OSU defense.
While guys like Bryant and Roby are easily excitable, Barnett is pretty laid back and he takes his craft extremely seriously. Remember back to fall camp, when Urban Meyer was praising Barnett as one of the guys he really enjoyed coaching. He even went as far as to call him a guy who won’t be satisfied with being average.
What Would The Buckeyes Have Done Without Him?
We actually had an up-close look at what the OSU defense might look like without Barnett on the back end. Fortunately, they had another veteran leader in Orhian Johnson who could step in and play the safety spot without too much of a dropoff.
The only problem with that, however, was the fact Johnson was already playing the ‘star’ position in Ohio State’s nickel defense. When Barnett went down with the ankle injury, the Buckeyes generally moved Johnson back to safety and went with Corey Brown, Barnett’s 2009 classmate as the nickel defensive back.
That worked out well enough for the most part, but there was still something missing from the defense when Barnett wasn’t out there. There were even a few times the Buckeyes had to use Zach Domicone or Ron Tanner on the back end of the defense this year, so they could have benefitted from a healthy Barnett.
How Does It Compare to Our Preseason Expectations?
As Gerdeman pointed out in his preseason piece, Barnett was a guy many were talking about as the top player in Ohio State’s secondary – or at least a close second behind Roby. He was even on the watch list for some major awards, which is why we had him ranked ahead of guys like Devin Smith, Corey “Philly” Brown and Christian Bryant.
The injury really limited Barnett’s effectiveness, although he was one of their leading tacklers in every game he played this season. Barnett had 56 total stops for the year, and while he wasn’t always in the right place at the right time, he certainly was at the end of that Michigan game.
Barnett came up with the big interception of Devin Gardner to seal the victory for the Buckeyes, and a perfect 12-0 season. I guess you could say that’s pretty valuable. Maybe we’re making the same mistake of undervaluing Barnett as we did in the preseason.
We’ll let you be the judge.
No. 19 Garrett Goebel
No. 20 Kenny Guiton
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