While the Wisconsin Badgers prepare for undefeated Western Michigan and the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2, many are keeping an eye on next season—especially with a possible graduate transfer quarterback waiting in the wings.
Earlier this month, former Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire announced his decision to transfer from the Fighting Irish. Wisconsin and North Carolina were two of the quickest schools to emerge as commonly suggested potential suitors for Zaire, who would be a graduate student-athlete with one year of eligibility remaining.
Zaire spoke with ESPN Madison’s Tony Cartagena last week right before his official visit to Madison, and reports by Irish247 and the South Bend Tribune appear to show the southpaw leaning toward playing his final season of eligibility in Madison.
Zaire’s father told Scout.com that Zaire will likely announce his decision between the Badgers and Tar Heels by next Tuesday, and that he’s already internally made a decision.
Malik Zaire came to Notre Dame ranked highly by recruiting services (194th player on the ESPN 300 list, 122nd by Rivals, 172nd overall by Scout) out of Kettering, Ohio (the same hometown as one Chris Borland). He was named the Music City Bowl Most Valuable Player in his first start at the end of the 2014 season but he’s only played in 17 career games. What led to Zaire looking to transfer? It appears injuries have played a role at least over the last year.
This is more theory than hard fact, but it’s one that I fully believe. No one could have predicted how good of a quarterback DeShone Kizer was going to become after Zaire went down with an injury in the second game of the year in 2015 that would end his season. Zaire fully believed that he was going to be “the man” in 2015 and 2016, and once a large dose of Kizer and reality hit him, I think he was seriously thinking about leaving after the 2015 season. Brian Kelly, seeing that his team had just been decimated with injuries in 2015, wanted no chances for 2016 (insert laughter). He most likely fully convinced Zaire that he would give him every possible chance to win the quarterback job back. Once the Irish got out of spring ball, Kelly still needed Zaire to believe that he had a chance to keep him fully in the fold for 2016.
Eventually it all blew up in their face. Zaire played poorly right from the jump, and the competition divided the team. After Texas, and knowing this was Kizer’s team, Zaire made up his mind to leave—no matter if Kizer was returning in 2017 or not. It appears that Zaire and his family were pretty angry with Kelly.
What are some of Zaire’s strengths seen in the last three seasons?
Zaire plays every down like it’s his last down. He really does try very hard, and has the charisma to make others want to follow his lead. His legs and his ability to create plays on the run make him a dangerous weapon.
What are some areas of improvement for the southpaw graduate transfer?
He had massive accuracy issues last year, and made a lot of mental errors during his brief appearances in a few games. It seems that once Zaire gets rattled, he stays that way.
For Wisconsin fans, if Zaire does commit to the Badgers, what should they expect from him?
You should expect a man on a mission. Someone who is determined to prove to himself and those that doubt or have doubted him in the past that he is an elite college quarterback. I’m not sure how he fits in the Badger offense exactly, but he will make himself ready. If fans think he is another Russell Wilson, they should slap themselves and try again. Zaire has still only played in a handful of games in his career, and is much less polished as a player.