How serious are the Malik Zaire-Florida Gators rumors?
Who is Zaire? The Ohio native was a four-star dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2013. The 6-foot, 225-pound lefty redshirted that fall, then started in the 2014 Music City Bowl (and won MVP honors) in a win over LSU. He started the first two games in 2015 before breaking his ankle, and he backed up potential first-round pick DeShone Kizer last season. His career numbers at Notre Dame: 816 passing yards and six touchdowns, 324 rushing yards and two scores. Zaire has already graduated, which means he can be eligible immediately without sitting out a year.
Why might Florida be interested in Zaire? Because the best option on the Gators' roster is a redshirt freshman, Feleipe Franks, whose next collegiate pass will be his first. If nothing else, UF could use some experienced depth as Kyle Trask (knee) and Luke Del Rio (shoulders) recover from offseason surgeries (although both should be fine by fall camp). Plus, Zaire has shown flashes of success (96 rushing yards against LSU, 19-of-22, 313 yards and three touchdowns against Texas). After the spring game, coach Jim McElwain was asked about the importance of developing a young quarterback. His response: "Being able to develop a guy is something that we've been fortunate to do a lot at stops along the way. And yet at the same time, we've got to go with who's going to give us the best opportunity to win ball games. At the end of the day, that's what we've got to do, is win ball games."
And why might Zaire be interested in UF? Quarterbacks want to play, and UF might provide him that opportunity. The Gators have won back-to-back SEC East titles and should have a deep, talented receiving corps, some good running backs and a solid defense - all enticing to a quarterback considering his options. Texas and Wisconsin are other schools that have reportedly reached out to Zaire.
So what's the holdup? The SEC's rules. In 2014, the league adopted 22.214.171.124 (b). It says that if a school takes a graduate transfer who does not make adequate academic progress, that program can't take another one for three years. "It's one that hurt us actually," McElwain said of the rule this spring. In McElwain's first season, remember, two grad transfers - offensive tackle Mason Halter and Tampa's Anthony Harrell - sat out the Citrus Bowl for academic reasons.
Then why might UF be an option for Zaire at all? Because the rule might change. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in December that he would initiate conversations about it. He also pointed out that the SEC is the only conference that has such a rule. I expect it to be discussed when the league's powerbrokers convene in Destin at the SEC's annual meetings later this spring.
So how serious is all this? It's hard to say, because those involved aren't talking about it publicly. But my semi-informed speculation: There's a whole lot of smoke here. That doesn't mean there's fire, but I think there is.
One more thing: A Notre Dame grad transfer playing quarterback in Florida...doesn't that sound kind of familiar? It should. Everett Golson landed at Florida State before the 2015 season. Golson was looking to transfer because there was an up-and-coming quarterback on the roster who performed well in a bowl game and seemed like he could be the starter that fall. His name? Malik Zaire.