Andy Staples: The punters
I know we’re expecting a shootout because last year’s game was a shootout, but if the score is low, the punters (JK Scott for Alabama and Andy Teasdall for Clemson) could make a huge difference. Both are excellent field flippers who could force the opposing offense to travel much farther than expected.
Pete Thamel: Alabama P J.K. Scott
One of the most valuable players for Alabama in the Peach Bowl was Scott. He averaged 45.9 yards per kick, but more impressively helped the Tide control the field position game. In the second quarter alone, he pinned Washington at the nine, 20 and four-yard line. The hunch here is this year’s title game is less of a shootout, which will make Scott a big factor.
Lindsay Schnell: Clemson WR Hunter Renfrow
Renfrow did it last year, so why not again?
Brian Hamilton: Alabama TE O.J. Howard
Howard might not be under the radar to Clemson, as he hauled in five catches for 208 yards with two scores in the national title game a year ago. But the Alabama tight end goes into Tampa with 41 catches and just two touchdowns all season. He had four receptions against Washington in the Peach Bowl, suggesting the Crimson Tide might be trying to relocate the 6'6", 251-pound senior. You wonder if he'll be the same threat he was last year against the Tigers' linebacker corps.
Joan Niesen: Clemson LT Mitch Hyatt
I feel like I'm the queen of repetition here, but Hyatt stands out to me. If he can keep Jonathan Allen away from Deshaun Watson, that could be a major key to the game for Clemson. Sure, Alabama's defense has multiple weapons, but if Hyatt can neutralize perhaps its most threatening and allow Watson to do his thing, the Tigers have a real chance.