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Construction is set to be completed before the 2019 football season Hawk Central

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College football’s return to prominence also brought back a staple from a year ago that delivered fan engagement for supporters of the Iowa Hawkeyes — our weekly Facebook Live chats.

I’ll be a part of them every Wednesday from noon until about 12:25, and we enjoyed a lot of visitors and questions in advance of Saturday’s 2:40 p.m. contest against Northern Illinois. If you missed this one, you can still catch the replay at our Hawk Central Facebook page. And you can join us again next week.

One of the hot offseason topics that came up during Wednesday's 20-plus minutes was A.J. Epenesa … specifically, wondering how much Iowa would unleash him in 2018.

The five-star recruit played in Iowa’s defensive-end rotation as a true freshman and did well — accruing 4½ sacks, mostly in third-down situations.

Naturally, fans are salivating for more.

Patience, people.

I’ll let longtime assistant Reese Morgan explain the “trust” factor that must be achieved in Iowa’s scheme that requires a lot from its ends — clogging up the run, controlling the edge and rushing the passer.

“Can we depend on them? Can we trust them to do everything we ask them to do on our defense?” Morgan said. “That’s hard to do, especially the way we play defense.”

That’s why you see Parker Hesse (fifth-year senior with 34 starts) and Anthony Nelson (third-year starter with 14½ career sacks) on the No. 1 line right now.

Still, you can rest assured that Epenesa will play. A lot. Especially when you know that Morgan said this of the 6-foot-5, 277-pound phenom: “He understands the defense so much better” than he did a year ago.

Epenesa’s still learning. He’s still just 19 years old.

I’d look for him to become more dominant as the season progresses and approach the 10-sack mark over 13 games.

Here was some more stuff that came up on Facebook Live (plus one other thing that hadn’t yet broken).

Topic: Will Kinnick Stadium be OK on Saturday?

You probably saw the ominous images on social media Tuesday night after a hard thunderstorm between 6 and 7 p.m. dumped rain on Iowa City and left muddy, standing water on Kinnick’s FieldTurf near the North end zone.

It didn’t look good.

But the water drained quickly. And, good news, the university confirmed Wednesday afternoon that everything is fine.

University staff and FieldTurf representatives will work to clean the playing surface "in the next 24 to 48 hours," the school said Wednesday afternoon.

A game will be played Saturday.

A crowd of about 67,000 is expected.

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Hawkeye junior quarterback Nate Stanley discusses his approach to facing the Huskies' dynamic defensive line. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

Topic: Does Iowa top 4.5 yards per carry and 210 rushing yards vs. NIU?

Those are two different questions. But I’d say no to both.

The Hawkeyes would love to average 4.5 per rush against a sturdy Northern Illinois front that includes “Number 15” (as Nate Stanley referred to him Tuesday) in consensus all-American defensive end Sutton Smith. NIU yielded just 3.0 a year ago.

To take a different slant on the question, I’m expecting Stanley and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz to instead focus on more short passing routes to Nick Easley, Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson that takes some pressure off a patchwork offensive line. Picking up five to seven yards on those plays consistently would be more beneficial anyway.

I’ll predict 4.1 yards per carry Saturday and 155 total on the ground. That would be a solid day.

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New Iowa starting running back Ivory Kelly-Martin says he has a wide range of skills, including, yes, blocking. Hear more: Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

Topic: The running back who gets the most carries Saturday is …

I’ll still go with Ivory Kelly-Martin, just because he’s got the Akrum Wadley comparison going for him and he’s listed No. 1. That said, Kirk Ferentz did say Tuesday that Toren Young and Mekhi Sargent are in the game plan, too.

If Iowa gets a decent second-half lead, then maybe Young is your carries leader. No matter, expect a spread-out workload. It’s a good problem to have.

Bonus topic: Schedules! Iowa gets Rutgers from 2022 through 2027.

This wasn’t released in time for Facebook Live, but the Big Ten Conference released new conference schedules for 2022 through 2025. The most notable things for Iowa:

Nebraska returns as the Black Friday opponent each year, something both parties were seeking. (Iowa and Wisconsin close the season against each other in 2020 and 2021, briefly breaking up the Iowa-Nebraska matchup that's ended each team's regular season since 2011.)

The Hawkeyes drew Rutgers as a six-year crossover partner in the East Division, meaning they’ll meet annually plus get two assorted East opponents to complete the nine-game conference schedules (Wisconsin drew Ohio State; Nebraska drew Michigan.) Iowa’s crossover partner was Penn State for the 2016 through 2021 schedules.

Iowa also introduced non-conference games against Kent State (2021), South Dakota State (2022), Illinois State (2024) and Northern Illinois (2025).

Say what you will about booooo-rrrrrrring schedules. I know, a lot of you want to see Notre Dame or LSU or Arkansas or even Missouri on a future schedule. But try not to waste too much energy fretting about what’s going to take place on 11 Saturdays and one Friday seven years from now.

Also, if you truly want to see Iowa reach the Big Ten Championship Game — choose to embrace the Rutgers draw rather than scoff at it.

Future Iowa football schedules

What the Big Ten Conference and University of Iowa released Wednesday (*—contract not finalized in Iowa-Iowa State matchup):

2022 schedule
TBA: Iowa State*
Sept. 17: South Dakota State
Sept. 24: at Minnesota
Oct. 1: Michigan
Oct. 8: at Purdue
Oct. 15: at Ohio State
Oct. 22: Open
Oct. 29: Northwestern
Nov. 5: at Rutgers
Nov. 12: at Illinois
Nov. 19: Wisconsin
Nov. 25: Nebraska

One more non-conference opponent to be determined.

2023 schedule
TBA: at Iowa State*
Sept. 23: Purdue
Sept. 30: at Wisconsin
Oct. 7: Rutgers
Oct. 14: at Northwestern
Oct. 21:  Michigan State
Oct. 28: at Penn State
Nov. 4: Minnesota
Nov. 11: Open
Nov. 18: Illinois
Nov. 24: at Nebraska

Two more non-conference opponents to be determined.

2024 schedule
TBA: Iowa State*
Aug. 31: Illinois State
Sept. 28: at Purdue
Oct. 5: Northwestern
Oct. 12: at Rutgers
Oct. 19: at Illinois
Oct. 26: Maryland
Nov. 2: at Indiana
Nov. 9: Open
Nov. 16: at Minnesota
Nov. 23: Wisconsin
Nov. 29: Nebraska

One more non-conference opponent to be determined.

2025 schedule
TBA: at Iowa State*
Sept. 13: Northern Illinois
Sept. 20: at Wisconsin
Sept. 27: Ohio State
Oct. 4: Illinois
Oct. 11: Minnesota
Oct. 18: at Northwestern
Oct. 25: at Michigan
Nov. 1: Open
Nov. 8: Purdue
Nov. 15: Open
Nov. 22: Rutgers
Nov. 28: at Nebraska

One more non-conference opponent to be determined.

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