What's the biggest difference between this year's matchup and last year's?
Andy Staples: The fear factor (or lack thereof)
Clemson, unlike most of Alabama’s opponents, won’t fear Alabama. The Tigers will respect the Crimson Tide, but there is zero chance they’ll lose getting off the bus like some of Alabama’s opponents do. After last year’s game, they’ll feel they’re on fairly even footing with the Tide. Ole Miss, the team that played Alabama the closest this season, was in a similar situation after beating Alabama in 2014 and 2015.
Pete Thamel: Alabama's offensive evolution
The full evolution of Alabama’s offense really changes the game, as the quarterback run game looms as an entirely new dimension for the Alabama offense. The other giant difference will be the disappearance of Lane Kiffin from the sideline, as Alabama scored 45 points in their title win against Clemson last year. (O.J. Howard is still running open in my memory from the last year’s title game). Does doubt creep into the Tide offense after the first three-and-out?
Lindsay Schnell: Both teams’ confidence
While Clemson didn't play intimidated last year, the Tigers have to come into Monday night with their chests puffed out because not only do they know how to score on Alabama, but they also just shut out another college football giant. The Crimson Tide, on the other hand, did not look sharp offensively against Washington (maybe that changes with Lane Kiffin gone though). All of this adds up to Clemson acting like the favorite.
Brian Hamilton: Alabama’s true freshman dual-threat quarterback
This works in two ways. On the one hand, it gives the Clemson defense another dimension to worry about, which wasn't really the case with Jake Coker when these teams last met. On the other hand, Jalen Hurts is a freshman playing for a national title against a defense that just crushed an offense led by a quarterback who once finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting.
Joan Niesen: Alabama’s offensive changes
Alabama's offense lost Heisman-winning running back Derrick Henry and gained freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts. The Crimson Tide's 2015 quarterback, Jake Coker, was more of a conventional passer, whereas Hurts has been dynamic on the ground. Add in offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin's departure on Monday, and to me, there's no arguing that this offense will look different than it did a year ago.