Arizona's Mark Lyons draws a foul from WSU's Brock Motum on Saturday. Both have been all-stars in the first half of the Pac-12 season.


Nick Foles shows up for his final Arizona football season and is fitted for a new helmet. He is wearing a gray T-shirt from Tyler's, a trendy athletic boutique near his Texas hometown. It sells for $18.99. He is wearing a dark blue Ralph Lauren cap, which goes for $19.99.

What else? Flip-flops and shorts. His entire outfit probably costs $70. This is the look of choice for the Biggest Man on Campus.

None of the UA's 500 athletes, men or women, have a bigger presence than Foles, and it has nothing to with his height (6 feet 5 inches), weight (240 pounds) or the fact that he is 22 and could pass for 25.

In the fleeting life of a college football player, Foles is The Franchise the way UA's Big Five senior quarterbacks - Eddie Wilson, Bruce Hill, Tom Tunnicliffe, Alfred Jenkins and Dan White - were over the last 50 years.

Foles even sounds like they did. "I'm going to cherish every moment of my senior year," he was saying Wednesday. "I'm going to make the most of it."

If he makes the most of it, Foles will expand the modest membership of Arizona's franchise-forever quarterbacks to the Big Six. At the Pac-12's most historically-challenged quarterback school, the qualifications aren't complicated: have a winning senior season and average more than six victories per season.

• Wilson went 8-1-1 in his final season and was 19-10-1 in three years.

• Hill was 9-2 as a senior and 26-7 in three seasons.

• Tunnicliffe was 7-3-1 as a senior and 19-12-2 in his final three years.

• Jenkins was 9-3 as a senior and 24-10-1 over three years.

• White was 6-5 as a senior and 24-11 in three seasons.

Foles begins practice this morning in a program that has gone 15-11 with him on the active roster. If he can boost that victory total above 20, produce a third consecutive winning season, his space in school history will be secure.

"Every time I'm on the field I expect to win the game" he said Wednesday. "You can't be happy winning nine or 10 games at the beginning of the season."

Here is the catch: Nobody but Nick Foles and his Arizona teammates are talking about winning nine or 10 games this fall. There is nothing about the '11 Wildcats to make you drool. They are neither appetizing nor sexy, and there is little to suggest they are about to springboard to a higher place in college football.

But to Foles and his teammates, this is just idle chatter. They put no stock into those who analyze the Pac-12 for TV, radio, newspapers and magazines. These preseason publications and broadcasts are often wrong, sometimes laughably so.

One thing that many have overlooked is that Arizona has stopped regressing. Foles and his coach, Mike Stoops, understand that better than anyone.

Against a wicked schedule, the Wildcats have been favored in 23 of their last 35 games. Before Stoops arrived in 2004, they were favored in six of 35 games.

This does not change the reality of the day; there is only one team in the Pac-12, Wazzu, that is demonstrably worse than Arizona. The Wildcats have issues at linebacker, on the offensive line and especially in the kicking game.

Foles believes that belief can overcome many issues and he uses Boise State as an example.

"They might not always have the best talent," he says, "but those guys buy into it and play their butts off. It's their mindset. I've seen a shift in the mindset of this team."

Wednesday, as Foles was fitted for his game-day gear, he stood beneath three large Nike banners that feature the likeness of Stoops.

One of them said VISION.

Another said LEADERSHIP.

A third said TEAM.

If there had been a fourth, it might have read CHANGE.

Entering his eighth season, Stoops' makeover is remarkable in scope. He has employed 24 assistant coaches. He inherited a program that was scoring a scant 15 points per game and allowing almost 36. Last year those totals were 28-22.

He took charge of a program that averaged 42,765 at the gate. Last year, his team drew an average of 55,408 for home games.

His teams have produced three consecutive winning seasons, matched over the last 50 years only by teams of 1973-75, 1981-86, 1988-90 and 1992-1995.

The change in UA football is well-documented, but 29 days from the launch of the most difficult first-half schedule in school history, those statistics and $18.99 will get you a grey T-shirt from Tyler's of Austin, Texas.

Coming Aug. 28

The Arizona Daily Star's college football preview section.

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or