As of Friday morning, the expectation was that Zaire will enjoy the commencement ceremonies in South Bend before making a decision between the Texas Longhorns and an unnamed finalist that Richardson reports is a mystery right now at the behest of the Zaire camp.
In late April Harvard was the addition to Zaire’s list, which has long included Florida and Wisconsin. The guess is that the Crimson are now out of the picture, but with Zaire it’s difficult to make many conclusive statements.
One consideration that could be pushing back his decision are the planned SEC spring meetings in Florida that are coming up late this month — a rather odd rule adopted by the conference last year is currently keeping the Gators from taking Zaire because two graduate transfers failed to qualify in 2015.
Commissioner Greg Sankey is on record as saying that the league will consider changing that rule, primarily because of Florida’s pursuit of Zaire.
“It will come up,” Sankey said in an ESPN Radio appearance in April. “I do think we need to look where we’ve been restrictive in the past because of the absence of national rules and look at reducing some of those restrictions. I’m one who would position it as interest in freeing things up without just removing every restraint, because I think the restraints have been healthy for us.”
Since the SEC is the only conference in the country with such a role, it’s possible, if not likely, that it gets rolled back, opening the way for Zaire to enroll at what may be his preferred choice.
As with other graduate transfer quarterbacks Texas has pursued this offseason, like Brandon Harris, who is now headed to North Carolina, the consideration for Zaire is whether he will have a legitimate shot at starting.
In Gainesville, Austin Appleby is gone after a decidedly mediocre season, leaving junior Luke Del Rio as the only Gator to have attempted a pass for head coach Jim McElwain last season. He threw eight touchdowns and eight interceptions, then missed spring practice after undergoing surgery after various injuries helped derail his 2016 season.
With Del Rio out, redshirt freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask took center stage, with Franks taking all the first-team reps in the spring game and turning in a modest performance while Trask struggled.
In other words, Zaire would probably be the immediate favorite to win that starting job.
At Texas, he would only have to compete against sophomore Shane Buechele and freshman Sam Ehlinger, the only two scholarship quarterbacks currently on the roster, but Buechele looks firmly entrenched after a second remarkable Orange-White game performance.
So while the job is technically still open, it’s hard to forecast Zaire picking Texas if he has the option of going to Florida. If the graduate transfer rule doesn’t get changed and Zaire is blocked from becoming a Gator, the Longhorns would likely be the choice.
Here’s what Kirk Bohls of the Austin-American Statesman reported earlier this week:
Texas is still in on Malik Zaire, but a source told me Tuesday the Longhorns are “not optimistic.” The coaching staff has talked to the Notre Dame quarterback within the last two weeks and “should know something soon,” but aren’t holding their breath.
Our recommendation here is for Texas fans to follow the lead of the coaching staff. And maybe spend some time praying that Buechele and Ehlinger stay healthy to prepare for the eventuality that the rule gets changed and Zaire plays for Florida next season.