STARKVILLE, Miss. — Going into the Southeastern Conference track and field championships, the men’s 400 meters looked like it would be one of the more competitive races of the three-day meet.

SEC athletes had posted nine of the top 11 times in the nation this spring, topped by the time of 44.44 seconds put up by LSU’s Vernon Norwood in the LSU Alumni Gold meet April 18.

In the prelims Friday, Norwood had the second-fastest time of the day at 45.55 seconds in winning his heat, while Texas A&M’s Deon Lendore turned in the fastest time at 44.88. Norwood is the reigning NCAA indoor champion; Lendore won the NCAA indoor and outdoor title in the event in 2014.

All told, seven of the nine finalists are among the nation’s top 11 — a group that includes LSU’s Fitzroy Dunkley (46.63) and Darrell Bush (46.81) — which will make it one of the more anticipated races of the final day.

One for the 10k

The eighth-place finish of LSU distance runner Travis Pope in the 10,000 meters Thursday night was a breakthrough of sorts for the redshirt junior.

Pope picked up a point for the Tigers in clocking a personal-record time of 30 minutes, 33.11 seconds, shaving nearly a minute off his PR of 31:26.24 set in the Battle on the Bayou. With the time, Pope added his name to the school’s all-time list in the 10,000 meters at 10th place. He displaced Tom Douple, who held a spot in the top 10 since his junior season in 1974 — a span of 41 years.

The time of 30:40.8 for Douple, a former LSU associate athletic director who is now commissioner of the Summit League, was converted from the old six-mile run. Douple remains seventh on the school’s 5,000 meters list.

Pope is the first LSU male athlete to score in the 10,000 meters at the SEC championships in seven years. Joseph Simuchimba did it two years in a row, finishing seventh in 2008 and third a year earlier.

Graduation day

Since they’re competing at the SEC meet, eight LSU athletes missed their graduation ceremonies Friday — a group that included Pope.

Also missing graduation exercises were Rodney Brown, Quincy Downing, Julian Parker, Philip Primeaux, Philip Dempsey, Chaiss Matthews and Andria Aguilar. Matthews was one of two grads to earn the University Medal, which is given to the athletes with the highest cumulative GPA in the graduating class.

Bryan Mutell and Meghan Charbonnet also earned their degrees but did not make the travel roster for the SEC meet.

Record falls

After 24 years, the SEC meet record set by former LSU All-America heptathlete Sharon Jaklofsky was broken Friday.

Mississippi State’s Erica Bougard actually shattered Jaklofsky’s old mark in the seven-event test held over two days by nearly 300 points on her way to upsetting reigning NCAA champion Kendell Williams of Georgia.

Bougard scored 6,250 points, easily topping the 5,969 points scored by Jaklofsky in 1991. Jaklofsky, a five-time All-American, went on to win the NCAA title that year.