The two toughest Southeastern Conference tailbacks to tackle are Florida's Jeff Demps and South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore.
So says Kentucky senior linebacker Danny Trevathan, and he should know. Trevathan led the SEC last season with 144 tackles, which is the most by a league player since 2002.
"There has been a rivalry with me and Jeff Demps since high school," said the 6-foot-1, 232-pounder from Leesburg, Fla. "He's a speed demon and can get around that corner fast. I think he really made me fast in high school, to tell you the truth, because I would chase him, and it's hard chasing a rabbit.
"You get one shot with him, so you better hit him."
Lattimore provides an entirely different challenge, Trevathan added, because his legs never stop moving and he's a chore to bring down without assistance.
Trevathan became the first linebacker in Kentucky history to be tabbed a first-team All-American by any organization when he was recognized last year by CollegeFootballNews.com. He was selected first-team All-SEC by league coaches and the media and enters his final season as the team's marquee player.
It's been a while since Kentucky's marquee player was a defender, following the likes of Tim Couch, Jared Lorenzen, Rafael Little, Keenan Burton, André Woodson and Randall Cobb.
The Wildcats are on a program-record streak of five consecutive bowl appearances, extending it last year under first-year head coach Joker Phillips. Yet 2010 was the first in the run in which Kentucky went just 2-6 in SEC games, attaining postseason eligibility largely by feasting on Western Kentucky, Akron and Charleston Southern.
"We've been 8-5, but we dropped to 6-7 this past year," Phillips said. "I've told this football team that the teams that are successful in this league are the ones that have discipline, are physical and have toughness. I think you'll see players this year who are a lot bigger, stronger, faster and leaner."
Kentucky is having to replace a lot of offensive productivity following the departures of the do-everything Cobb, quarterback Mike Hartline, tailback Derrick Locke and receiver Chris Matthews, but the defense returns the top 11 tacklers from last season. In fact, the defense has been billed as Kentucky's most experienced in 20 seasons.
The Wildcats are being coached defensively this season by Rick Minter, who was the University of Cincinnati's head coach from 1994 to 2003. Minter was hired last December and coached the Wildcats during their 27-10 loss to Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl, a performance he called "totally unacceptable" after the Panthers rushed for 261 yards.
Trevathan said the defense has grown since that debacle and noted that Minter requires three turnovers a practice or face the consequences, which usually means a lot of running.
"He's a real in-your-face type of coach, and I really haven't had that in my whole career playing football," Trevathan said. "He's kind of unleashed another side of my game, and he has taught me how to learn better. We're not sitting back anymore."