McFeely: 'Sprinkled in' last two seasons, QB Miller anxious to show Bison fans what he can do from the start
Junior begins season as starter for first time after leading NDSU to national title last season
FARGO — Cam Miller became part of an exclusive, if continually growing, club last season with Brock Jensen, Carson Wentz, Easton Stick and Trey Lance. Miller was the fifth starting quarterback to win a national championship in North Dakota State's Division I era.
The junior from Solon, Iowa, will begin this year as the undisputed No. 1 QB after starting the final eight games last season, including the Bison's 38-10 thumping of Montana State in the Football Championship Subdivision title game. Yet — and Miller's not wrong on this — he believes he's still a bit of an unknown among NDSU followers.
"You know, I feel like the Bison fans really haven't even gotten to know me yet. I feel like I've just kind of been sprinkled in there. And I'm just excited to show them what I can do," Miller said.
There's a reason for that. For all of Miller's steady play down the stretch last year after he replaced Quincy Patterson as the Bison's starting QB, he's still only started 10 games in his NDSU career.
In the mess of the 2021 spring season as a true freshman, he replaced senior Zeb Noland as the starter for the Bison's final two games. Last year, after a public battle for the starting job in fall camp, Miller began the year as Patterson's backup.
Miller took control after replacing an injured Patterson in the second half against Missouri State in the seventh game of the season, rallying the Bison with two touchdown passes. Miller never gave NDSU coaches a reason to switch back.
Little known fact: Miller would have ranked second in FCS in passing efficiency (174.01) and fourth in completion percentage (.678) but fell short of the minimum passing attempts per game to qualify for the NCAA rankings.
And while he's no Stick or Lance running the ball, he's good enough to get 15 yards if need be.
So as Miller stood on the Dacotah Field turf Thursday talking with the media as NDSU opened fall camp in search of its 10th national championship in 12 years, he did so knowing the starting quarterback job is his.
And it looked to fit him.
"I feel like I have more confidence than I did last year knowing that it's my job," Miller said. "And there's just kind of a weight that was lifted off my shoulders. It isn't really about anybody taking my spot."
Patterson, seeing the writing on the Fargodome wall, transferred in the spring to Temple. Bison coaches love redshirt freshman Cole Payton and rave about his potential, but he'll begin the season as the No. 2 — likely with a package worked into the offense to utilize his skills, size and speed.
Miller's strength's last year were obvious. He processes defenses quickly, was a far superior thrower than Patterson and has a lightning quick release. Miller's arm strength isn't as good as Lance's or Wentz's, but that's a ridiculously high bar considering those two were taken in the first three picks of the NFL Draft.
"I think my my arm strength has gotten a lot better," Miller said. "I know that's what people always kind of try to bring me down about because they don't think I have a very strong arm, but I would like to think that they're wrong about that."
Miller worked in the spring and summer with New Jersey-based quarterbacks trainer Tony Racioppi, noted as the personal QB coach of Pittsburgh Steelers No. 1 draft choice Kenny Pickett. The connection is that Miller's dad, Kevin, is friends with the family of Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras, who also works with Racioppi.
"I think he's really helped me. And then just staying in the playbook and just trying to sharpen my craft and get with the receivers in the offseason," Miller said. "It's really the first time that I've been able to work with these receivers since I've been on campus. We've had the last three months to really work on timing and routes and all that kind of stuff."
With Christian Watson's departure to the NFL, a key question for NDSU will be which receiver becomes a threat. There's no doubt when Watson missed three playoff games last season because of a hamstring injury, the Bison had trouble pushing the ball downfield with their receivers.
When asked what he's seen from Miller heading into the fall, Bison head coach Matt Entz didn't hesitate.
"Better leadership. Totally. It's something we talked about in the spring, that Cam has gone through two seasons now and now you've had another offseason to prepare physically and mentally. The next piece is the leadership piece," Entz said. "Being able to address an offensive lineman, a tight end, a wide receiver, a running back and make sure we're all on the same page."
North Dakota State QB Cam Miller working Play Action playing Post then Reseting to 12-15yd Sail Route to TE layering ball over 2nd Level. Great to have Cam in to train all break after winning a National Title as a Frosh. Bright future! @TEST_Football @cammiller_5 @NDSUfootball pic.twitter.com/w2zl6x5hyM— Tony Racioppi (@Tonyrazz03) March 14, 2022
Miller said that should improve because of his experience and position as the starter.
"I think that playing and getting actual game reps helps you to become confident enough to be a leader," Miller said. "When you're a backup, it's really hard to tell a starter what to do. I think having experience and winning the national championship, having that under my belt, that matters."