Barnes burst onto the scene with six sacks, 26 tackles - 10 for a loss - and forced three fumbles in 12 games for a sturdy Nittany Lion defense last season.
Penn State's defensive line lost First Team All-Big Ten tackle Jordan Hill to graduation, and after the season Barnes had last year, it figures opposing teams will pay extra attention to the 6-1, 245-pounder wearing No. 18. Barnes said he is expecting some double-teams and other wrinkles from opposing blockers, but he thinks he and the defense can work around them.
"I don't see them being able to set a target, and set a whole offense, or line, to me," Barnes said. " does a great job of disguising and putting people in different places. I don't really think they can double-team me like that, but they will."
This is Barnes' third year in the Penn State program (he redshirted in 2011), but he is still trying to avoid a sophomore slump on the field. With hours of his offseason spent watching film, Barnes said he got a better understanding of the game and how much of his numbers were a result of what his teammates were doing in the trenches.
One of those teammates is defensive tackle DaQuan Jones. A senior, Jones is the most battle-tested member of Penn State's defensive line, and he said that some of the conversations he has had with Barnes during training camp this month are different than ones they had in past seasons.
"Before, it was just how to get to the quarterback. Now, he's talking about technique stuff," Jones said. "So, seeing him grow in that aspect is a good thing."
Barnes' six sacks were a team-high and also tied him for sixth-most in the conference. However, he also has a responsibility to stop the run and that's where coach Bill O'Brien said he thinks Barnes has improved that area of his game.
"I believe he'll play the run better this year," O'Brien said. "He's worked hard on that in the off season, and he can rush the passer. Everybody knows that. He's a dynamic player, and I'm very glad he's on our team."
Barnes is part of a group of Penn State players that goes by the "Supa Six." No, it's not a promotion at a supermarket, the name is a play on Michigan's "Fab Five," and is made up of Barnes, wideout Allen Robinson, running back Bill Belton, defensive back Adrian Amos, offensive tackle Donovan Smith and tight end Kyle Carter - all third-year players who made an impact last season.
Accolades, hype and fame (at least in the State College area) could go to the head of some 20-year-olds. But defensive line coach Larry Johnson said Barnes has not rested on his laurels.
Johnson, who has coached the likes of Tamba Hali and Jared Odrick, played a large part in Barnes' recruitment to Penn State. He recalled the way Barnes made his announcement that he would be attending Penn State, showing a lot about his personality.
"He walked in with Pop Warner hat, a Penn State hat, and he walks in with a jersey of his high school team," Johnson said. "That tells you what kind of guy he is. He's really grounded in the sense that he appreciates where he's been."
On the field, Johnson would certainly like to see Barnes have another celebrated season, but the coach is not going to put more on Barnes' plate than he can handle.
"He'll realize he'll have some good days and some bad days," Johnson said. "We just need to make sure he understands his role in the defense. Just do what you're supposed to do, nothing extra, just be yourself. And if he does that, he'll be fine."
For the first time in 9 months, Barnes will have the chance to get his hands on an opposing quarterback Saturday when the Lions open their season against Syracuse at MetLife Stadium.
The preseason expectations will be gone, and the talk will finally turn to what Barnes is doing on the field.
"Everybody from outside is expecting me to do more," Barnes said. "I would say I am going to be able to make more plays. My role is to - when I'm on the field - do my job and make sure everything is efficient."