If the last-place Washington State Cougars need inspiration, all they have to do is look across the Arizona Stadium field on Saturday.

Not long ago, the Arizona Wildcats were every bit as bad as the Cougars.

Arizona went 2-10 and finished last in the Pac-10 in 2003. Six rocky years later, the 21st-ranked Wildcats (5-2, 3-1 Pac-10) are in the hunt for their first Rose Bowl appearance.

"I think there's some definite parallels between theirs and ours in terms of where they began," Washington State coach Paul Wulff said. "There is a blueprint. The blueprint really is, if you want it right and you want to get it done correctly, like Arizona has done, it takes patience."

Patience has been a watchword for both programs.

The Cougars have had 19 players make their first college start this year, and Wulff hopes his team will eventually be able to develop as much depth as the Wildcats, who were thin when Mike Stoops took over after the 2003 season.

"It does take time," Stoops said. "We've been under some siege the last three or four years, where we were at."

Washington State (1-7, 0-5) has the fewest championships among the original Pac-8 schools, with four.

Arizona, which joined the Pac-10 in 1978, has the fewest conference titles - one, which the Wildcats split with USC and UCLA in 1993.

But the Wildcats have a shot at doubling their total this year. Oregon's rout of Southern California last weekend left the Ducks and Wildcats as the only teams that control their own destiny in the conference race. (They meet Nov. 21 in Tucson.)

Saturday's game will be Arizona's first since it jumped into The Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since Oct. 22, 2000, a span of 104 games. The Wildcats are no longer an afterthought.

"There's two ways of looking at it," Stoops said. "You want to lay there and go unnoticed and keep winning. But there's a certain amount of exposure that goes along with it. You want that for your program."

Stoops said he's not worried about how his players will respond to their newfound success.

"Our guys, I think, really have come to the point where we know we're a good football team," he said. "I don't think we're satisfied with where we're at by any stretch of the imagination. Obviously, we know what's in front of us."

It might be tempting to look past the Cougars, who have two wins in their last 20 games against major-college opponents. But the Wildcats have plenty of reasons not to be overconfident.

"Anybody can beat anybody if you give them the opportunity," Stoops said.

Starting tailback Nic Grigsby and third-stringer Greg Nwoko are nursing sprained shoulders. If they can't play, most of the rushing load would fall to Keola Antolin, who has been slowed by an ankle injury but gained 77 yards in Arizona's last game, against UCLA.

Another question mark is quarterback Nick Foles, who is coming off his worst start. Beset by illness, Foles threw three interceptions and had a fumble returned for a touchdown in a 27-13 victory over UCLA two weeks ago.

It was an uncharacteristic performance for Foles, a sophomore transfer from Michigan State who is completing 72.3 percent of his passes, best in the conference. The Pac-10 season record for completion percentage is 70.7 percent, by California's Rich Campbell in 1980.

Foles will make his fifth college start, as will Washington State true freshman quarterback Jeff Tuel.

Tuel threw for 354 yards and two touchdowns two weeks ago against California, the second-highest passing total for a freshman in school history. Tuel, who replaced Marshall Lobbestael, is Washington State's first true freshman QB since Drew Bledsoe in 1990.

Tuel grew up in Tucson and attended Salpointe Catholic High School as a freshman before his family moved to Fresno, Calif.