Sticking out on the schedule like a thumb hit by a hammer, the grudge match between the University of Akron and Kent State football teams won’t get end-of-the-season treatment this year.

Instead of competing in chilly November weather during Thanksgiving week, when the game is normally scheduled, players will be greeted by temperatures in the 70s and possibly rain for kickoff at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Dix Stadium.

Zips coach Terry Bowden has been wrestling with the question of how he feels about the move all summer since the Mid-American Conference announced the unorthodox change.

“I don’t know,” he replied when asked about the change. “Right now I think both teams are super positive. The one thing you’ve got is both teams in extremely positive attitudes. We’re 2-2. They’re 1-3 and about every other team in our conference but two or three are about in that same boat,” Bowden said.

“I think we both come in with a very positive mindset, whereas at times at the end of the season, it’s just as big but sometimes when you play at the last game of the season, it’s just as big, but …”

Yes, there’s a “but” and it probably has to do with the fact that in many of the past matchups, the only spoils to be taken were bragging rights.

Sometimes bragging rights are enough. During his weekly news conference, Bowden confessed that after his first victory over the Golden Flashes he couldn’t run fast enough to claim the Wagon Wheel, the rivalry’s signature trophy. The Zips were 5-7 that year. In other words, he’s in agreement with Kent State coach Paul Haynes.

“I’m good with it. We can play it first. We can play it fifth. We can play it last,” Haynes said in his weekly news conference. “I know this: At 3:30 on Saturday, the ball will be kicked off and it’s against our rival and it’s against Akron.”

Haynes has had his players write each day what they can do to beat UA. Bowden said that he’s spent part of the week educating his young team about the game.

“This is your rivalry,” he said. “When you come back here and mingle with other lettermen from years past, you’ll all identify with whether you beat Kent that year, so I think there was some coaching on my part, some history lessons or some refreshers.”

Recent history will show the Zips shut out the Golden Flashes last year 20-0. It’s not the type of score easily forgotten — especially in games of this import. Bowden remembers losing to Kent State on the final drive of the game in 2014.

“Those games are in my craw, so I imagine it’s in their craw too,” he said.

But a 48-0 whipping at the hands of No. 1 Alabama last weekend has left its own painful mark on the Golden Flashes’ collective psyche. Playing against UA will help them forget that loss, Haynes said.

At this moment in the season, the rivals are polar opposites. The Zips are strong and explosive offensively (No. 3 in scoring offense, No. 5 in total offense in the MAC) and struggle defensively (No. 11 in scoring defense and No. 11 in overall defense). Kent State struggles offensively (No. 10 in scoring offense, No. 12 in overall offense) and is better (No. 5 overall, No. 9 scoring) on defense.

“They’re a very good defense. They were a very good defense last year,” Bowden said. “We’ve got to find the matchups. We’ve got to find a way to mix up our offense run and pass because they’re a veteran defense, veteran secondary.”

Bowden talks about the leader of KSU’s defense and secondary, Nate Holley, with a touch of admiration.

“He’ll make 18 to 20 tackles in a football game, keep everybody lined up properly,” he said. “Holley is something special.”

The Zips offense, led by quarterback Thomas Woodson, will face a motivated Kent State team. It’s the Flashes’ homecoming this weekend, among other things.

“They have something we want,” Haynes said.

George M. Thomas can be reached at gmthomas@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Zips blog at www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ.