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What is the football equivalent of a Duke-Carolina Final Four game?

There's only one college football game that could match the hype of the first Duke-UNC Final Four game in Coach K's final season.

In case you hadn't heard, Duke and North Carolina will play in the Final Four on Saturday night. It's kind of a big deal. A Duke-Carolina game is a big deal no matter what form it takes, but this game is the biggest deal ever because of the form this specific game happened to take.

Saturday night marks the rivals' 257th all-time game, and their first in the NCAA Tournament. And then there is the obvious: it could very well be Mike Krzyzewski's final game. Not only did first-year Tar Heels coach Hubert Davis send Coach K out a loser on the floor that bears his name, he now has an opportunity to double down on the humiliation by putting Coach K's career in the grave with two straight losses to Carolina. Coach K is a lot of things, but humble isn't one of them. To end his career like that would be a humbling that would last for the rest of his days. 

If North Carolina wins Saturday night and then goes on to win Monday, it will be the ultimate humiliation for Duke. Davis wins a title in Year 1, while Jon Scheyer inherits a Duke program fresh off losing its last two games to its biggest rival on the biggest stage the sport has to offer. A Carolina win on Saturday night instantly becomes a cornerstone moment for college basketball, equal to the Chris Webber timeout, the Christian Laettner buzzer-beater and the Michael Jordan game-winner.

If Duke wins on Saturday night, Coach K avenges the March 5 loss and exits the rivalry a winner (he's 50-47 lifetime vs. UNC). It's obviously a bummer for Carolina, but the Tar Heels have far overachieved simply by forcing this game. If Duke wins Saturday night and Monday night... none of us will ever hear the end of it.

Before finding a college football equivalent, we first must dig into the particulars of this rivalry. Duke-Carolina is both national and hyperlocal. As ESPN reminds us each winter, the campuses sit just eight miles apart (Google says it's actually 9.8.) As a point of reference, Auburn and Alabama are 157 miles apart. Florida and Florida State are 148 miles apart.

At the same time, this is a clash whose echo will extend far beyond central North Carolina. By any measure, Duke and UNC are two of the top five programs in the sport. UNC's 2,294 wins are third all time; Duke is fourth with 2,214. UNC is third with six national championships; Duke is looking to pull even in New Orleans. Nearly four million people tuned into the March 5 game in Durham, making it the most watched college basketball game of the season to that point. Duke's last Final Four game topped 15 million viewers; UNC's last topped 18 million. Saturday night's game figures to easily bust past 15 million and might even approach 20. 

If North Carolina wins Saturday night and again on Monday, the Coach K era of the sport's best rivalry will end like this:

Head-to-Head Wins
Duke 50
UNC 48

Total Wins
Duke 1,129
UNC 1,120

ACC regular season/tournament championships 
Duke 28
UNC 28

National Championships
Duke 5
UNC 5

When you add in that these two schools share the color blue, and you truly have two sides of the same coin. It's truly hard to imagine one without the other. The Joker to the other's Batman. Peanut butter to the other's jelly. A night of drinking to a morning of regret.

Obviously, college football's historic lack of a postseason tournament cuts down the historic parallels. Name any great rivalry and numerous games where a win lifted one team to the national title game while a loss eliminated the loser, but all of those games occurred in the regular season -- except for one. On Nov. 30, 1996, No. 1 Florida went to Tallahassee and lost to No. 2 Florida State, 24-21. Thanks to the machinations of the Bowl Alliance, the Gators and the 'Noles met again in the Sugar Bowl, the same site that hosts Saturday's Duke-UNC rematch (as well as the Kentucky-Louisville Final Four game of 2012). No. 3 Florida blew out No. 1 Florida State in the rematch, 52-20. No. 2 Arizona State's loss to No. 4 Ohio State in the Rose Bowl the day prior earned Florida its first national championship. 

Oklahoma and Nebraska managed to play a rematch in the Orange Bowl back when the two ran the Big 8, where the Sooners avenged their November loss to the Huskers (they were No. 1 at the time) in Miami, but that win just lifted OU from No. 4 to No. 3. 

In 2006, Ohio State and Michigan would've played a rematch in the BCS National Championship had Florida lost to Arkansas in the SEC Championship but, obviously, that didn't happen.

Quit stalling and tell us which college football rivalry best translates to this game. Again, there are so many facets to the Duke-UNC rivalry that I don't think a single college football rivalry perfectly translates.

-- The Iron Bowl is the obvious parallel from a local perspective, but Duke and North Carolina are much closer to each other historically than Auburn is to Alabama. (Sorry, Tigers, but you know it's true.

-- USC and Notre Dame both have national followings a la Duke and Carolina, and both are on equal ground historically. (Both schools claim 11 national titles, trailing only Alabama.) Like Duke and Carolina, USC and Notre Dame are highly-regarded academic schools -- just ask them! -- that cultivate wine-and-cheese fan bases that might not get along with the portions of their fan bases with no connection to the university outside its athletic teams. But a USC student could never leave a dump in a Notre Dame library toilet and be back on his own campus within a half-hour, so this one's out.

-- Florida and Florida State admittedly checks a lot of boxes. There's the 1997 Sugar Bowl, as referenced above. UF and FSU both acquired their respective CFB Blue Blood cards relatively late in life, so they're on equal ground historically. (Both schools claim three national championships; the oldest of the six was won in 1993.) The Gators and Seminoles play on the final weekend of the regular season, and as members of separate conferences it's easy to imagine them playing a rematch after winning their respective conference title games. Gainesville and Tallahassee aren't Durham-Chapel Hill close, but they're close enough that a UF student could easily support his or her team at Doak Campbell Stadium or vice versa. 

But with all due respect to the Gators and Seminoles, both programs are top-10 historically in college football. Duke and UNC are top-5 in college basketball. National following of the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels also exceeds the national following of the Gators and the Seminoles.

-- Michigan and Ohio State has to be the answer here. The rivals don't share the same state, but there's a reason both games draw parallels to Yankees-Red Sox -- games that are often overhyped and shoved down the public's throats by networks with vested interests in getting neutral fans to watch. But you'd be hard pressed to find more heated playoff series than the 2003 and 2004 ALCS, and you simply can't a better picture of college football at its best than Michigan's win over Ohio State in the snow at the Big House last November. We'd all spend most of December quietly nauseous at ESPN cramming a Michigan-Ohio State into every opening all month long... but we'd all tune into the game. 

However, I believe there is one possible game whose hype would surpass a Michigan-Ohio State rematch. Texas and Texas A&M haven't played in 3,781 days and counting. While it wouldn't be a rematch, neither school has a national following equivalent to Duke and UNC (especially not after UT's last 12 seasons), and the historical see-saw isn't as balanced as Devils-Heels, the only college football game that could match the larger than life, "holy crap is this really happening?" feeling of The First Duke-UNC Final Four Game in Coach K's Final Season would be a UT-A&M rivalry renewal in a College Football Playoff game.