Let’s not forget there’s an immediate beneficiary to the SEC’s new graduate transfer rule. Former Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire is headed to Gainesville.
In some quarters, this is breathlessly hailed, not simply as the key to Florida’s third straight divisional title, but as “that one piece the Gators need to finally settle the Crimson Tide”. No, really.
This is the bulk of Zaire’s resume:
Florida is definitely better off having Zaire as an option, but it’s not as though he comes to Florida with a ton of game experience. He began the 2015 season as Notre Dame’s starter, but only for the first two games of the year before going down with a broken ankle. His two starts brought mixed reviews.
He was fantastic against Texas in the season opener, throwing 313 yards and three touchdowns while completing 86 percent of his passes in a 38-3 Irish win. The next week at Virginia wasn’t as kind, as he completed 39 percent of his passes for 115 yards and a score while also rushing for 87 yards before going down with the ankle injury.
He served as a backup behind eventual second-round pick Deshone Kizer in 2016, appearing in eight games and completing 11 of his 23 passes for 122 yards and a touchdown.
All in all, Zaire has only thrown 98 passes in his college career, completing 58 of them (59.2 percent) for 816 yards and six touchdowns. To his credit, none of those 98 passes has ever been intercepted.
He was spectacular in that Texas game, no doubt, finishing with a passer rating over 250. It was all downhill from there, though, as he only threw one more pass in all of 2016 than he did against the Longhorns, on his way to posting a 106.73 passer rating as the back up.
He does bring something to the position that Florida’s lacked under McElwain: mobility.
There’s a real chicken-and-egg aspect to that, though. Have the Gators not used the quarterback as a runner because they haven’t had a mobile quarterback, or is the Florida offense not structured to take advantage of having a mobile quarterback?
Either way, if Zaire is supposed to usher in a new era, there isn’t a lot of time to restructure the offense to tailor it to his strengths, or, alternatively, for Zaire to learn Nussmeier’s system. None of which is to say it’s not useful to sign an experienced quarterback. Before Zaire’s arrival, Florida was looking at a choice of Luke Del Rio, himself a transfer, recovering from an injury that caused him to miss half the regular season, and redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks, who had a nice spring game, and… did I mention he had a nice spring game?
So, while it’s not hard to see why they’re happy to have him, it feels like something of a leap to proclaim Zaire as some sort of final piece in Florida’s SEC puzzle. Of course, if you’re a Georgia fan, all you care about is if Zaire brings enough to the table to allow Florida to maintain its East streak. As to that, who knows — he just very well might.