It’s been known since shortly after the 2016 season ended that Malik Zaire would not be returning to Notre Dame for a 5th year to compete with Brandon Wimbush. Zaire’s destination, however, was not until this weekend. With a new SEC rule change clearing the way, Zaire will officially transfer to Florida for his final season according to multiple reports.
Zaire will have competition at Florida. The Gators left the spring with a red-shirt freshman, Feleipe Franks, atop their depth chart at quarterback. The Gators also have Luke Del Rio, son of NFL coach Jack Del Rio, but fall camp figures to be a Franks vs. Zaire showdown in Gainesville now. Franks was a top 100 recruit just two years ago and is not short on talent. Franks also has an 18 month head start on Zaire.
It could be argued that the situation he is now in at Florida is not all that much different than what he would have faced in South Bend. While expectations are sky high for Brandon Wimbush, he is still a redshirt sophomore with very limited game experience.
Before deciding on Florida, Zaire considered a transfer to Wisconsin, North Carolina, Harvard, and Texas. In fact, at one point it looked like North Carolina – a 2017 Notre Dame opponent – was going to be Zaire’s landing spot. The longer Zaire remained a free agent, the more apparent it was where he wanted to go. It took a recent SEC rule change, however to open the door.
Recent Rule Change Opened Door to Florida
Until last week, SEC schools could not accept graduate transfers for a three year period if multiple previous graduate transfers did not meet academic requirements. The rule was changed just last week, however, to a one year window. Had it not changed, Florida would not have been able to accept any grad transfers until after the 2018 season. With the door finally open for his transfer, Zaire made his move just two months before the start of fall camp.
Zaire’s Notre Dame career ended before the calendar read December this past season. An unceremonious end to what looked to be a very promising career at various points during his time in South Bend. After storming out of the gates in 2015 with a near flawless performance against Texas, a broken ankle the following week in Charlottesville derailed his junior campaign. That broken ankle ended up derailing his entire Irish career and opened a door that led to Deshone Kizer’s ascension. Kizer parlayed his rise into leaving early and getting drafted in the 2nd round of the NFL Draft two months ago.
Throughout Notre Dame’s disastrous 4-8 campaign last fall Zaire had a few chances to retake his starting role but was never able to recapture any of that Texas game magic. In the season opener rematch with the Longhorns, Zaire struggled to move the offense while Kizer marched them up and down the field. In mid-October Zaire got another chance when Kizer struggled against Stanford, but one horrible snap resulting in a safety and a three and out later and Zaire was back on the bench.
Zaire Not the First Notre Dame QB to use Grad Transfer
Zaire joins what is a growing list of former Notre Dame quarterbacks to end their collegiate careers somewhere other than Notre Dame during the Brian Kelly era. Dayne Crist (Kansas), Andrew Hendrix (Miami Ohio), and Everett Golson (Florida State) all used the graduate transfer rule in recent years when it was clear that their Irish careers were not going to end how they – or anyone else – had hoped for.
So far none of the Kelly era quarterbacks to use the grad transfer route have been able to pivot their transfers into NFL futures. Crist struggled with Charlie Weis in Kansas. Andrew Hendrix had a solid season under former Irish offensive coordinator Chuck Martin at Miami, but that was about it. Golson started the 2015 season as Florida State’s starting quarterback, but he didn’t end it in the same role.
Will Zaire be the first to shine at another school? Time will tell. You can bet that there will not be a shortage of Wimbush vs. Zaire comparisons throughout the fall though – especially if the Irish struggle and Zaire plays well for the Gators.