The Golden Flashes' fourth-year mentor plans to someday soon lift his own squad from the bowels of college football and join Owens as a member of the MAC elite.
But first, Pees has to beat him.
"We have a sizable group of seniors who have never beat Akron, and a sizable group of coaches who have never beat Akron either," said Pees. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for Lee and the job he's done to build Akron's program, and we're trying to accomplish that same goal here. Obviously, we have a long way to go.
"Right now, we just need a win. And it would be that much sweeter if it's against Akron."
Pees has dropped his first three meetings with the Zips by an average score of 39-19. Kent State led most of the way at the Rubber Bowl in 1999 before a controversial call helped Akron escape with a thrilling come-from-behind 37-34 triumph, while the other two meetings have been lopsided affairs.
But Saturday's matchup has classic potential.
The Flashes are far better than they've ever been under Pees on both sides of the ball, especially since freshmen phenom Joshua Cribbs has taken over the offensive reins. Cribbs provides a direly needed multi-dimensional weapon at quarterback who strikes fear into the hearts of defenders.
"Michael Vick-type quarterbacks are the wave of the future right now, and Kent's found someone that's pretty close," said Owens. "He's a good athlete with quick feet who throws the ball pretty well, too."
Meanwhile, the Zips are oozing with confidence after more than holding their own both physically and statistically against Big Ten behemoths Ohio State and Purdue.
"This is the best Akron team I've seen so far," said Pees, without hesitation.
While promising young quarterback Charlie Frye and senior tailback Brandon Payne gobble up most of the headlines, Pees is more impressed with the Akron's men in the trenches.
"They have a good scheme for the personnel they have, but their offensive line is what makes them go," said Pees. "Those guys up front are big, strong and experienced."
Akron's line is anchored by 6-foot-4, 297-pound senior left tackle Konrad Dean, who is currently on the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award watch lists, along with senior right tackle Jeff Grzeskowiak (6-5, 309). They'll battle a KSU front-three that features senior Mark Strickland and junior Roy Attieh, who both played exceptional games last Saturday at West Virginia, and a linebacking corps anchored by senior wrecking ball James Harrison that's beginning to live up to its preseason billing.
If Pees, his staff and his initial batch of recruits are going to earn that elusive first win over their backyard rivals, Kent State's defense will have to at least slow down a potent Akron offense that's equally effective running and throwing the football.
"I don't know of a more balanced team in the country," said Pees. "We're preparing to play the best offensive team we'll face all year. But we look at this as an opportunity to prove ourselves. To start the MAC season with a win by beating our rival ... you can't ask for a better opportunity."
MORE SCHEDULING SWITCHES ... Kent State has made yet another change to its 12-game 2002 schedule. A road date with national power Virginia Tech has been moved to 2006, and the Flashes will instead travel to I-A Connecticut next year. Kent State will also play home games against Division I-AA schools New Hampshire and Tennessee Tech, and at Ohio State.
The Flashes were originally scheduled to play road games at Ohio State, Virginia Tech, and Central Florida after opening at Youngstown State in '02. Kent State has been taking some abuse from the YSU fans and media for dropping the local I-AA power, but that doesn't concern Pees.
"They can say whatever they want to say. The schedule we had for next year was ridiculous, and we had to do something about it," said Pees. "Name one other I-A school that plays on the road against a I-AA team?"
One and only one such game will be played in 2001: Idaho at Montana.
UP-AND-COMING CROCK ... One of the KSU defensive linemen battling Akron's bruisers Saturday night will be former Southeast High School star Tom Crock, who has started the past two games at right end.
Crock (6-3, 255), a redshirt sophomore, saw limited action a year ago but moved up the depth chart after packing on some pounds during the offseason.
"He's playing earlier than I thought he would, because I didn't think we could put 30 pounds on him and get him up to 255 or 260 this quickly," said Pees. "But Tom's always been a tough guy. He's a blue-collar kid who comes to work every day and doesn't say much."
SORRY, WE'RE CLOSED ... Owens' reaction, when informed that Pees had
decided to close practice this week: "I tell our team practice is closed
all the time, because no one's ever there. I don't want them to think no