We caught up with former Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire before this weekend's ACC Championship game between the unbeaten Fighting Irish and Clemson. In the rematch between two Top 5 teams, Malik thinks a Heisman moment will show itself for Ian Book or Trevor Lawrence.
Malik, though, certainly hopes Irish Eyes Are Smiling on Notre Dame's winningest Quarterback in his last few games of his college career.
As a recurring commentator on CBS, Malik also shared his thoughts on Buffalo's standout running back, James Patterson, and his favorite parts of covering college football in the Mid-American Conference.
There are some iconic names - including yours - to start at quarterback for Notre Dame. Where does Ian Book sit on your list of best Irish QBs in the last 20 years?
MZ: Yeah. I think if you just look at Ian's numbers and what he's done alone, it's not easy to do that at a level of Notre Dame quality. And so from that, you gotta put him in the realm of the top guys that come through Notre Dame. In my opinion, and on the outside looking in, the numbers obviously speak for themselves. But, you still want that mystique and that defining moment within your career. And I think this is a great way to end that journey that he's had so far with this weekend and hopefully heading into the playoffs, that he can cap off what has been such to a wonderful career for him at Notre Dame.
And, those games, even though there's two or three games left for him this season, it is pretty important that he does come out with a favorable victory (against Clemson). Not that him not being successful is going to take away from what he's achieved, but it is important that he solidifies that mystique (with a memorable finish).
You want to be the reason why this team comes through this weekend. And, he's put himself in a position where if he can cap that off... he'll really go down as one of the best to ever do it.
This weekend's ACC Championship is almost a play-in game for the CFB Playoff. So, are you sticking with the Fighting Irish in their second face-off with Clemson?
MZ: Well, I do think this is a playoff game. It just doesn't have the title to it. I thought the last game was a pre-playoff game for us and I'm expecting (Notre Dame) to win, obviously. But, I really want to see how that story ends for Ian, you know, I'm rooting for him. He's got everything in front of him, you know, at a position like that, a lot of times you don't get there because of just luck. So, if you get a chance to play 30 games and be healthy and have good teams around you and be in that position that he's been in, I mean, the only thing you can hope for is finishing strong on a high level like this.
So, I'm definitely rooting for him and hopefully come out with the victory. And if we do come out with the victory, I want Ian to have one of those games where, without him, we couldn't have done it. So, that's what I'm expecting. If we're going to win, it's going to be because of Ian. And if we're going to lose, it's going to be because of Ian.
So you've been around Ian Book and as a former Florida QB, you follow Kyle Trask. Does one of these two end up with your Heisman vote? Or is it somebody else?
MZ: It's such an interesting year just because not everybody was on the same playing field. I think for the guys that at least got 10 games in - like Ian and Kyle - they should be considered in New York. But, playing those 10 games or 11 games in a season like this, I do feel like they were the only ones to do it at the highest level. Maybe I'm a little bit biased because I've been in both quarterback rooms (at Florida and Notre Dame). But, I think these two games - Kyle versus Alabama and Ian versus Clemson - will make me cast my vote for the one that does better, you know, if it was ever that easy.
I also think James Patterson should be able to get in there because the amount of things he's done in six games. So if a one off year for a non-quarterback to win the Heisman, (James Patterson) is definitely at least deserving of a chance.
Obviously, we know Trevor's got the talent and the height, but he ain't play all of his games. And on top of that, he had missed games due to COVID. I wish he would've got a chance to play that first Notre Dame game. But, I do believe it should be between Kyle and Ian. We've got a chance to see what those two can do on the highest levels of the sport. You know, so that would be my easiest answer.
Obviously, everybody has a ton of people they want to put in there just from a reputation standpoint. And I don't think this the season, if any of the odd seasons that this should be a reputation award this year. Those two have been able to play all those games and play great consistently. And, I think it should come down to this weekend.
Speaking of James Patterson, you are now doing some commentary for CBS, covering the Mountain West and the MAC. Who are some of the player's that you've enjoyed watching in the games you've called?
MZ: James Patterson out of Buffalo at running back - him and Kevin Marks, another running backs at Buffalo - have done some really, really unique and special things in a six-game season. And it really shows how they've been able to put their team on a national level, not only from an individual perspective, but the team was able to be ranked for the first time in school history.
It's crazy to sit there and watch them play because they literally just hand it to him each and every play. And they both are very special, talented backs - to be on the same team and be great teammates to each other and be happy to see each other's success, even though one has gotten more carries than the other.
Those two guys both have been making the most out of their carries and for them to have the team they have and the guys on the outside like Antonio Nunn, who's also a great receiver, just shows just how talented this team is, regardless of the conference that they're in.
For them to be able to make such a national presence in six games, who knows what it would look like in ten. And the way they was playing in the MAC - putting up 50 points in a game - is something that is unheard of. So, yeah, James Patterson and Kevin Marks have been my two standout players this season. And the MAC is pretty talented. They may not have the names, but got the excitement when you watch.
Being an Ohio guy and now covering the MAC, what makes that conference different?
The MAC is a place where if you feel like you're really good and don't want to go D-1 to deal with politics, you go to a MAC school. And you go, and put up ridiculous numbers. And, usually those people that do that end up making it to league.
So, it's definitely not easy, but it's a platform where if you get a chance you got to do beyond the expectation to be noticed. But if you do, you see people like Kareem Hunt, Khalil Mack, and Ben Roethlisburger, come out of the MAC and have successful careers in the NFL.
And I think it's a place where you get your reps. You're going to get your experience. You're going to have some pretty accomplished coaches that come through the MAC and those guys know, football.
There's more glitz and glamour in the Power 5, but the MAC is everything that you would want at a D-1 level as well. You don't have the same travel schedule as everybody else, but you go out there and shine. It definitely can translate to the next level. And a lot of guys, shouldn't be afraid to try to join the MAC conference. If you really are a football player (and) you're really passionate about what you're doing, because it can take you to the same places the Power 5 schools can.
To hear more from the GMTM Analyst and CBS commentator, check out Malik's thoughts on Notre Dame's next quarterback, Tyler Buchner. And, quarterbacks, be sure to sign up for Malik's Lucky Lefty Training Page on GMTM.
Scotty Jenkins is a staff writer for GMTM covering college football. He grew up slowly in Nebraska, in the midst of the Husker dynasty of the '90s... and has been aging rapidly ever since.