Will Zaire gamble pay off for Gators?

by Gary Shelton on June 5, 2017 · 0 comments

in College Sports in Florida, general, University of Florida

Monday, 4 a.m.

For a moment, for just a moment, he was a star.

For a moment, for the flickering of a light, college football's future seemed to belong to him.

Instead, Malik Zaire became a very small deal, an afterthought for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Mostly, he watched. Mainly, he waited. He was the brightening flash in the pan you've ever barely seen.

And now he is a Gator.

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And now, it is possible to wonder if he is wasting everyone's time.

Oh, if he is once again the quarterback that Notre Dame – and the rest of us — saw on Sept. 5, 2015, then this weekend could have been very good one for Florida. Against Texas – Charlie Strong's Texas – Zaire looked like a budding star as he hit 19 of 22 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns in a season-opening win over Texas. That day, he had a rating of 250.9.

For one day, he woke up the echoes, all right. He was Joe Montana and Terry Hanratty and Joe Theismann. He was better than Paul Hornung (the most overrated college player in history), better than Johnny Lujack, better than Tom Clemens.

And then he wasn't.

In his second game, Zaire suffered a broken ankle against Virginia and was lost for the year. He's been thinking about that day against Texas since.

Zaire's legacy at Notre Dame included moments, but not many of them. He threw for 170 against Southern California, for 96 against LSU. But only twice in his career did he ever complete as many as 10 passes in a game. Last season, his high for completions was four. He threw for more than 100 yards only three times in his career.

So you wonder: Is Zaire coming to Florida to start, or is he coming in as an experienced backup? Is Florida letting Zaire get in the way of the progress of quarterback Feleipe Franks? It's worth asking. Franks has had a good off-season, one in which he seemed to take the job with both hands. But in flirting with Zaire, are the Gator coaches saying they aren't yet ready to entrust the offense to Franks? Are they saying they want more experience behind him? Or in front of him?

Meanwhile, they're hoping he can return to being the kid who played against Texas.

In college football, taking a transfer quarterback is a mixed bag. Auburn won big behind transfer Cam Newton (who went from Florida to a junior college, where he was a star). Wisconsin was good behind Russell Wilson (who transferred after his N.C. State had a brain cramp). Alabama won a title behind Jake Coker.

But remember Everett Golson, also of Notre Dame? Usually, that's what you get when a college quarterback transfers. Golson was good enough to be at the helm as a strong FSU team started 6-0, but he wasn't good enough to hang onto the job, ceding it to Sean Maguire down the stretch. Austin Appleby, who came from Purdue, was another one. He was good enough to play for a sputtering Gator offense, but he was hardly a Rescue Ranger. He was another guy in another pair of cleats.

Most of the time, the rule of thumb is that a transfer who wasn't a star at his first school isn't going to be a star at his second one. He could be a good backup. He might split time on a bad team.  But odds are, he won't be much more than he was.

So we will see with Zaire. At one time, he was a talented young player for the Irish. But he threw for only 122 yards last year. He ran for only 1.7 yards a carry. He doesn't come in promising titles and trophies. No one is measuring him for a statue outside the stadium (with Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow).

It's odd. When Jim McElwain came to Gainesville, he was supposedly something of a quarterback guru. But he's done far better at most of the other spots on the field than quarterback. The Gators thought they had a quarterback in Will Grier, but he and banned substances tested their way out of Gainesville, and no one has quite done the job since. Franks made you think “maybe.”

Still, the Gators' offense has sputtered mightily the last two seasons. It's hard to blame Jim McElwain for searching for another option. And who knows?

Maybe, just maybe, Zaire will turn back time.

Maybe, just maybe, you will speak his name again.

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