In a delayed Pac-12 debut defined by the unimaginable, played amid a pandemic backdrop in an empty stadium dotted with cardboard fans, it took the unthinkable to save USC from an all-too-familiar fate against Arizona State.

A late morning marked by sloppy mistakes very nearly slipped away from the Trojans on Saturday. Three times they turned the ball over inside Sun Devils territory. Twice, they turned the ball over on downs in the same spot. As USC lined up for a desperation onside kick, down six points with 2:49 remaining and no timeouts left, its fate seemed assured, its hopes of contention — in the Pac-12 and College Football Playoff — kaput.

From LA Times