TUCSON, Ariz. -- The Arizona Wildcats dispatched woeful Washington State with ease.
Now comes the hard part for the Wildcats (No. 18 BCS, No. 21 AP).
Travis Cobb returned the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown to set the tone for Arizona in a 48-7 rout of the Cougars on Saturday.
The victory, combined with Oregon's loss at Stanford, moves the Wildcats (6-2, 4-1 Pac-10) within a half-game of the first-place Ducks. Arizona and Oregon are the only teams in the conference with just one loss.
But the Wildcats -- the only Pac-10 team never to play in the Rose Bowl -- still must face California, Oregon and USC. The Cal and USC games are on the road. Then there is the unpredictable rivalry game against Arizona State.
The stretch starts next Saturday at Cal.
"Our players definitely know what is at stake right now," Arizona coach Mike Stoops said, "but we can't get too far ahead. Right now we need to focus on next week's game, and then it will all fall into place."
The Wildcats scored against Washington State the first seven times they had the ball.
"Nick Foles is really, really good," WSU coach Paul Wulff said of the Arizona quarterback. "He was so accurate and poised. He's just a sophomore and he's really, really good."
Arizona led 34-0 at the half, then William "Bug" Wright returned a punt 86 yards for a score the first time the Wildcats touched it in the third quarter.
Arizona (6-2, 4-1 Pac-10), the only Pac-10 team never to go to the Rose Bowl, pulled within a half-game of first-place Oregon after the Ducks lost at Stanford. Arizona and Oregon both have one conference loss. Everyone else has at least two.
Washington State (1-8, 0-6) lost its starting quarterback, freshman Jeff Tuel, when he sprained his right knee in the second quarter.
Marshall Lobbestael replaced Tuel and finished 7 of 11 for 103 yards and a touchdown. The Cougars avoided a shutout when Jared Karstetter made a one-handed grab of Lobbestael's pass on a 64-yard touchdown play with 6:23 to play.
"Jeff is in his first year of college, Jared is in his second," Washington State coach Paul Wulff said. "These are just kids, but they are trying, they really do try. The effort is outstanding."
Foles threw for 151 yards and a touchdown in limited playing time for Arizona. Matt Scott, the Wildcats' starting quarterback the first three games of the season, rushed for 83 yards in nine attempts and threw for another 26 yards.
The Wildcats had no turnovers.
"It was one of those games where we just couldn't beat ourselves," Foles said. "We had five turnovers the last game [a 27-13 victory over UCLA] so we just wanted to focus on not turning over the ball and playing smart this game."
The victory made the Wildcats bowl eligible, but with four games to play, the team sees a chance for much more.
"Winning six games this early in the year and being ranked, that shows a lot about this program," Foles said.
Arizona rolled up 471 yards, 294 on the ground. Washington State managed 185 yards -- 64 on one play and just 59 rushing.
The Wildcats, in the national rankings for the first time since 2000, were up 14-0 with the game barely three minutes old.
Cobb took the opening kick and burst up the left side of the field, racing to the end zone for Arizona's first kickoff return for a touchdown since 1998.
"When it was me and the kicker, it was like, `Oh man, I'm going to run one back," he said. "If I'd have gotten tackled by the kicker, I would have been so mad."
After Washington State went three-and-out, Foles quickly drove Arizona to another score, lofting a 28-yard pass to Terrell Turner to make it 14-0 11:43 left in the first quarter.
The Wildcats led 24-0 after one quarter, then made it 31-0 after Tuel fumbled on a sack by D'Aundre Reed and Arizona's Lolomana Mikaele recovered at the WSU 14. Three plays later, Nick Booth scored on a 1-yard run. Booth had 84 yards in 18 carries.
The Cougars then mounted their only drive of the first half, moving from their own 9 to the Arizona 9. A holding penalty moved Washington State back to the 19, then Tuel was hit hard by Xavier Kelley. The WSU quarterback fumbled and Arizona's Ricky Elmore recovered.
Tuel was hurt on the play. He eventually was able to walk off the field but did not return.