The college football grad transfer market is getting thin, but one of the biggest prizes still remains on the board. Former Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire has yet to pick his next destination after he announced his intention to transfer in late November and initially planned to pick his next school in time for spring practice.
That window has obviously come and gone, and Zaire’s top options have shifted. He had reportedly narrowed his choices to North Carolina and Wisconsin in December, but the Tar Heels have since landed former LSU passer Brandon Harris.
So where will Zaire go? His options are open based on the strong potential he showed in limited playing time at Notre Dame. He led the Fighting Irish to a victory in the 2014 Music City Bowl in his first career start and then got off to a flying start to the 2016 season before breaking his ankle in a win over Virginia. That injury allowed DeShone Kizer to emerge, and Zaire never regained a hold of the starting job.
As the top quarterback still available to boost some team’s 2017 hopes, will Zaire go with his original finalist Wisconsin? Or will his promising talks with Florida send him to the SEC? Or will Zaire choose somewhere else entirely? Here’s where three SI writers think he should choose:
Colin Becht: Wisconsin
Florida appeared like it might be an ideal fit for Zaire’s service. After all the Gators’ quarterback situation seems far more unsettled than the Badgers’ with Alex Hornibrook back for his sophomore season. But the latest indications in Gainesville are that Florida may not be so desperate for a new QB after all. Redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks has reportedly been working with the first-team offense more than Kyle Trask this spring, and coach Jim McElwain said the battle was “starting to sort itself out.” So if Franks has impressed enough to move to the forefront, does Zaire really want to try to counteract that momentum?
Hornibrook performed adequately for a freshman while sharing the job with Bart Houston and finished the season with 1,262 yards on 58.6% passing with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions. But those aren’t numbers that should frighten Zaire off, particularly when Wisconsin’s openness to add a grad transfer indicates it doesn’t view its starting QB spot as locked in.
Plus Zaire could arrive in Madison and immediately feel comfortable, an underrated aspect given that he’ll step foot on campus just a few months before the season. He formed a strong relationship with coach Paul Chryst as a recruit and heavily considered joining the Badgers before Chryst, then Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator, left to take the Pittsburgh head coaching job in 2012. Zaire would have no trouble getting up to speed in Wisconsin’s pro-style offense.
The Badgers know how to make the most of a grad transfer quarterback, and while Zaire isn’t exactly Russell Wilson, he could lead Wisconsin to similar heights. The Badgers are the clear favorites in the Big Ten West, and with the right quarterback, they could claim the conference championship they were denied last season.
Chris Johnson: Florida
The Gators’ pro-style system may not be a perfect fit for Zaire’s skill set, but the impact of his addition would be massive. A dangerous runner who showed promise as a passer in limited action at Notre Dame, Zaire likely would be the best quarterback to line up for the Gators since McElwain took over as head coach prior to the 2015 season.
The lefty signal caller will have a talented runner to lean on in Jordan Scarlett, and he’s adept at picking up his own yards on the ground. Zaire also will have a group of dynamic receivers with which to work, including juniors Antonio Callaway, Dre Massey and Brandon Powell and sophomore breakout candidate Tyrie Cleveland.
The Gators are staging a quarterback competition right now between two unproven redshirt freshmen (Franks and Trask) and a currently injured, underwhelming veteran (Luke Del Rio). Zaire is a better option than all three of them. His absence from spring workouts (and resultant inability to record valuable repetitions) means Zaire will need to pick up Florida’s scheme in a compressed window before the start of the season, and the Gators’ schedule hardly offers a soft launch: They open on Sept. 2 against Michigan at AT&T Stadium.
But assuming SEC transfer rules aren’t an impediment, this could be a great move for both parties. Zaire can use his final year of eligibility to compete for a conference championship, and Florida can install a top-flight dual-threat QB to pilot its offense while Trask and Franks spend another season developing for the future.
Gabriel Baumgaertner: Miami
The Hurricanes offer Zaire a wealth of options that could benefit him in his one-year stint. An NFL-caliber quarterback (Brad Kaaya) just left a promising young team led by a coach who knows how to win fast (Mark Richt).
The Hurricanes are probably most keen on developing Jack Allison, a 6’4” local product who looks like the QB of the future, but he’s only a redshirt freshman. Last year’s backup, Malik Rosier, is the only player on the roster with any game experience, but his accuracy raises serious questions. Rosier played well in his one start last season—he went 20 for 29 for 272 yards with two touchdowns in a win over Duke—but that’s his only significant experience outside of appearances in blowout wins.
In picking Miami, Zaire can work with Richt, a talented QB developer, and a thrilling wideout in junior Braxton Berrios. Miami probably doesn’t exceed eight wins this season, but Zaire can function as a bridge to develop younger QBs and boost Richt’s offense.