MIRAMAR BEACH, Fla. — The biggest game of the opening weekend of college football almost never happened.

USC tried for nearly 2 years to find a way out of a contract to play LSU in Las Vegas because Trojans coach Lincoln Riley didn’t want the game, multiple sources told Saturday Down South.

As late as last fall, after Jen Cohen was hired away from Washington to be the new USC athletic director, the USC administration was still trying to get out of the game, including offering other opponents to LSU, sources said.

At one point, Fox Sports got involved and tried to further the process. The network wasn’t enamored with the idea of USC’s first game as a Big Ten member broadcast by rival ABC/ESPN.

“They weren’t getting out of the game,” a source told SDS.

LSU athletic director Scott Woodward and Las Vegas Bowl executive director John Saccenti, both attending the annual SEC spring meetings here, declined to comment.

Just how committed was Riley to get out of the game? High-profile sports agent Trace Armstrong represents Riley and LSU coach Brian Kelly, and a source told SDS that Riley asked Armstrong for help in changing Kelly’s mind.

It didn’t work.

In an age where college football has never been bigger, and fan engagement never greater, the sport nearly missed out on the marquee matchup of an important weekend of nonconference games to begin the 2024 season with the new 12-team Playoff — and on the big stage in Las Vegas.

Week 1 includes mega nonconference games Texas at Michigan, Georgia vs. Clemson (in Atlanta), Texas A&M at Notre Dame and Miami at Florida. But none was a bigger draw than USC-LSU, running unopposed on television in primetime on ABC.

Another source said “more than 10 games” on various schedules had to be moved to accommodate the game, and that there was significant “logistical legwork” to make it happen.

USC and LSU will each earn $5 million from the Las Vegas Bowl for the game, which was scheduled in August of 2021 — 4 months before USC hired Riley to replace Clay Helton.

USC has an unusually difficult schedule in its first season in the Big Ten, but the administration was trying to get out of the game before the Big Ten announced the 2024 schedule.

The Big Ten initially announced its 2024 football schedule for 16 teams in October of 2023. A new schedule was released a month later after Washington and Oregon were officially accepted to the conference.

The USC schedule includes key road conference games at Michigan and Washington, and home games against Wisconsin and Penn State. The Trojans play annual nonconference rival Notre Dame in Los Angeles.

LSU’s schedule, meanwhile, includes nonconference games against USC and UCLA, in addition to its 8-game SEC schedule.

Most online sportsbooks have LSU as a 6.5-point favorite over USC for the Week 1 matchup.