Notre Dame’s freshmen have reported to campus and moved into their dorms, and the 4th of July is within sight. For football fanatics, these developments can only mean one thing: the start of the college football season is right around the corner, and UHND will be here to prepare you for the impending 2016 campaign with the annual “Now or Never” series, starting with the complicated career of quarterback Malik Zaire.
Malik Zaire’s Recruiting Pedigree
Malik Zaire was a 4-star prospect hailing from Kettering, Ohio, with scholarship offers from the likes of Alabama, Nebraska and Ohio State. The No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the Class of 2013 joined Mike McGlinchey, Hunter Bivin and Colin McGovern in committing to the Irish shortly after Notre Dame’s Junior Day, and instantly became a fan favorite when explaining his decision.
“Growing up here [in Ohio] you’re definitely born to be an Ohio State fan,” Zaire said. “I wanted to look at where I’d want to go to school without football,” he explained before calling Notre Dame a place that “can take you far in life and help you be very successful once sports are over.”
Reason for Optimism
Irish fans should be optimistic about Malik’s 2016 performance due to his work history. In his first career start Zaire completed 80-percent of his passing attempts and chipped in nearly 100 yards on the ground with his feet in leading Notre Dame to a Music City Bowl victory over the LSU Tigers, marking Notre Dame’s first win over an SEC opponent in nearly a decade. Zaire built upon his initial success by going toe-to-toe with incumbent starter Everett Golson during the spring practice session, performing well enough for Golson to become concerned about his future playing time in South Bend, a development that likely aided his decision to transfer to Florida State.
Zaire lived up to the hype, too, by humiliating the Texas Longhorns – one of college football’s winningest programs – on national television by a score of 38-3 to open the season, throwing for 313 yards and three touchdowns while completing 86-percent of his passing attempts, the second highest percentage in school history. The talented Ohioan’s historic start was only derailed by a season-ending ankle injury suffered the next week against the Virginia Cavaliers.
Reason for Doubt
Doubt first surfaced in the very same Virginia game where Malik would suffer his injury. Zaire led a sleepwalking offensive attack that saw Notre Dame trailing the Cavaliers 14-12 at the half, with Zaire completing a disturbingly low 39-percent of his passes before exiting and making way for DeShone Kizer, the main source of doubt for Zaire’s future.
In a twist no one could have foreseen prior to the start of the 2015 season, former redshirt freshman and third-string quarterback DeShone Kizer is now the most experienced at his position on the roster. In Zaire’s stead Kizer led Notre Dame to a 10+ win season that included upsetting Georgia Tech in his first career start and taking Clemson to the final play on the road at Death Valley. Kizer boasted an 8-3 record in his 11 starts with his only losses to programs that finished No. 2, 3 and 4 in the final AP poll.
Complicating matters for Zaire is the fact most reports had Kizer with a slight edge during this spring’s practice session, reports substantiated by Zaire’s inconsistent play during the annual Blue and Gold Spring Game. Zaire forced many throws and completed only 40-percent of his passing attempts, and was even bested by Kizer in the rushing department, with DeShone averaging 5.2 yards per carry compared to Zaire’s 2.4.
Malik Zaire’s Outlook for 2016
An outlook for Malik Zaire is difficult to project given the quarterback competition will stretch throughout the summer, but if the starter were named today it’s doubtful Malik would get the nod. DeShone Kizer has the size, arm strength, mobility and, most importantly, experience head coach Brian Kelly values in his starting quarterbacks. It’s unknown if the Texas or Virginia version of Zaire is the more accurate representation, but with most of a battle-tested season under his belt Kelly has a strong idea what to expect from Kizer.
Another unknown is how Zaire would handle the news should he not win the quarterback competition. While strong arguments can be made transferring would be against Malik’s best interests, Zaire has shown in the past his emotions can go against better judgment, informing the Associated Press he didn’t feel he should have to compete with Kizer for the starting job.
“You just really wonder what it’s going to take to finally convince people enough that I’m able to do the job,” he said.
If Malik Zaire is the one to do the job, he’s running out of time to prove his case.
Scott Janssen is a blogger for The Huffington Post who has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him. Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter.