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Mountain West football's best team ever: 2009 TCU vs. 2013 Fresno State

The Red Wave's elite aerial attack meets perhaps the best defense in conference history.

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

It's an age old question. What wins championships, offense or defense?

In this particular matchup, there is no clear answer because both entrants battled their way to the top of the Mountain West. The 2009 TCU Horned Frogs were the first edition to break through to the BCS stage after years of coming up just short of the proverbial ceiling, and it did so largely on the strength of its defense. While it had always been a hallmark of Gary Patterson's teams, it was rarely better than the level it sustained throughout the season, leading the nation in yards allowed per contest while also finishing second in yards per play and third-down conversion rate and sixth in scoring defense.

The MWC hasn't seen a defense quite like it ever since (unless, of course, you deem the Frogs' 2010 defense to be even better, which it very well may have been), but then no offense was quite like that of the Fresno State Bulldogs. From the opening kickoff of the 2013 season, the 'Dogs would lean heavily on their tremendously gifted quarterback and the results were better than nearly everyone could've anticipated.

This tournament has seen a few examples of unstoppable forces against immovable objects, but none are quite as extreme as this matchup. Who will advance?

Tale of the tape

Overall record: 2009 TCU - 12-1 (8-0 MWC); 2013 Fresno State - 11-2 (8-1)

Best wins: 2009 TCU - vs. BYU, 35-7; 2013 Fresno State - vs. Boise State, 41-40

Worst loss: 2009 TCU - vs. Boise State, 17-10 (Fiesta Bowl); 2013 Fresno State - vs. San Jose State, 62-52

Seasons summarized in a sentence: The 2009 Horned Frogs got a scare to open conference play against Air Force, but won every game thereafter by at least four scores en route to a BCS berth (and maybe getting screwed out of a shot at the national championship). The 2013 Bulldogs couldn't quite finish the same journey, if only because the defense couldn't keep up with a record-setting offense.

Fun fact: The Bulldogs defense coughed up a season-high 62 points in their loss against the Spartans. In any four-game stretch of 2009, the Horned Frogs gave up more than 62 points just once (the last four games against Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico and Boise State).

Memorable players

TCU: Linebacker Jerry Hughes was the scariest part of the Frogs' defense in 2009, as he racked up 11 1/2 sacks and was deservedly recognized as the first player to earn MWC Defense Player of the Year twice and a unanimous All-American choice. He was hardly alone, though, as Daryl Washington and defensive backs Rafael Priest and Nick Sanders were all-MWC picks, as well. The offense was no slouch, however, as it featured future NFL starters Andy Dalton, Marshall Newhouse and Jeremy Kerley, among others.

Fresno State: The 2013 Bulldogs would not have been so prolific without quarterback Derek Carr, who set a number of records in throwing for 5,082 yards and 50 touchdowns, leading the nation in both categories. He benefitted from a trio of NFL-caliber receivers -- Davante Adams, Isaiah Burse and Josh Harper -- all of whom finished with over 1,000 yards. Safety Derron Smith was among the nation's ballhawking best with seven interceptions, while linebacker Ejiro Ederaine had a breakout season with ten sacks and 16 1/2 tackles for loss.