The beginning of the Football League season is fast approaching and it's getting to the time where we should start placing our outright bets.
Sheffield United were finally able to end their six-year stay in League One by leaving the division as comfortable Champions, fired to the title by the goals of Billy Sharp. They were joined by Bolton Wanderers, who never really looked like challenging them, and Play-Off winners Millwall. The trio replaced Blackburn Rovers, Wigan Athletic and Rotherham United in the Championship.
At the other end of the league; Chesterfield, Coventry City, Swindon Town and Port Vale were all given their marching orders, to be replaced by Portsmouth, Plymouth Argyle, Doncaster Rovers and Blackpool.
By far the favourites to end their stay in League One as early as possible are Tony Mowbray's Blackburn Rovers (4/1), who lead Lancashire rivals Wigan Athletic (8/1) and League Two winners Portsmouth (10/1) in the betting.
Perhaps the reason Blackburn are such heavy favourites is down to manager Tony Mowbray. Already with League One experience at Coventry City, he took over the proverbial sinking ship at Ewood Park in February and actually managed to steer them towards almost surviving - being relegated by goal difference on the final day of the season.
Mowbray picked up an impressive 1.47 points per game, which would have seen them finish 9th over the course of a full season. This was enough for Venky's to promise investment over the summer and, to be fair to them, they've stuck to their word.
The arrival of 2015/16 Team of the Year midfielder Bradley Dack from Gillingham is sure to raise a few eyebrows, though he was far from his best last season and that's probably why they've been able to snap him up for less than £1 million. The addition of Peter Whittingham on a free transfer is sure to bring them much needed firepower after the departure of Anthony Stokes, whilst the arrival Richie Smallwood from Rotherham United will sure up their midfield. Ben Gladwin (QPR) and Dominic Samuel (Reading) have also joined on undisclosed deals.
Perhaps Blackburn's closest rivals are those that are, geographically, actually one of their closest rivals.
Wigan Athletic were largely let down by ineffective managers and inept tactics last season, with Gary Caldwell and Warren Joyce both proving themselves to be very average and struggling to cope in the Championship. Paul Cook, signed from Portsmouth after leading them to League Two glory, gives Wigan the steady head they'll need to return to the Championship at the first time of asking.
With Noel Hunt their most significant signing, it would be reasonable to assume the relegated side haven't really strengthened ahead of the new season. In my opinion though, they don't really need to.
Wigan were a cut above when securing promotion to the second tier as Champions two seasons ago and their key personnel are potentially even better now than they were then.
He struggled with the step up to the Championship and lack of service last season but Will Grigg will relish an opportunity to return to a league he has consistently performed well in. Scoring at least 19 times in each of his last three seasons and bagging 25 when firing Wigan to the Championship, Grigg may be able to re-ignite the fire that saw him called up to the Northern Irish squad for Euro 2016.
Wigan's core of him, captain Sam Morsy and vice-captain Dan Burn is potentially the best in the division and with a no-nonsense manager like Paul Cook (proved when he sent want-away midfielder Max Power to train with the reserves) at the helm, you've got to fancy Wigan's chances to make it a brief stay in League One.
Looking to potentially usurp their former manager will be Portsmouth, now led by Kenny Jackett. Despite not topping League Two at all throughout the entirety of last season, Pompey were able to pip fellow south-coasters Plymouth Argyle to the title on the final day with a 6-1 thumping of Cheltenham Town.
The addition of Brett Pitman from Ipswich Town is a real statement of intent from Jackett, who has two League One promotions on his CV and is therefore no stranger to what it takes to make it out of this league. He will relish the expectation of Fratton Park's 14,500 expectant season-ticket holders and with their £5.7m takeover by Michael Eisner complete, they'll be eyeing a return to the big-time very soon.
There are a real plethora of sides in League One that look like they have the potential of making it to the play-offs, with all three of the sides beaten to promotion by Millwall last season looking to make it count this time around.
Losing finalists Bradford City (14/1) probably hold the strongest claims for another crack at making it, though Üwe Rosler's Fleetwood Town (25/1) and Graham Alexander's Scunthorpe United (20/1) will fancy themselves again this season. All three actually finished above Millwall last season, who only made their Top Six position permanent on the final day.
After the heartbreak of losing in the final, it will be interesting to see whether Stuart McCall can get his players motivated to go again this season. Their problem last season was failing to turn any of their 19 draws into victories and I'm not convinced Dominic Poleon and Paul Taylor are the answers to that problem.
The addition of Jake Reeves in midfield from AFC Wimbledon is a great signing, though they'll have to prove they can cope with the losses of Billy Clarke, Rory McArdle and James Meredith.
Bradford's loss is Scunthorpe's gain though, having snapped up McArdle on a free after his contract expired with The Bantams. The Iron picked up 82 points last season, nine more than Millwall, and Graham Alexander can be confident of challenging again this time around.
Goalkeeper Luke Daniels, centre-back David Mirfin and midfielder Stephen Dawson have all left the club but Alexander has spent the summer working on a new system that should see 20-goal forward Josh Morris more influential this season.
League One manager of the season Üwe Rosler's side also finished last season's campaign on 82 points and despite losing striker David Ball to Rotherham and right-back Conor McLaughlin to Millwall after both declined new contracts, look likely to be up there come next May.
The Trawlermen played some of the best football in the league last season, making real use of their limited finances, and the addition of Conor McAleny and Kyle Dempsey from Everton and Huddersfield respectively could prove to be inspired choices. McAleny, who joins on a free, looks to be a real coup for the Rosler after scoring 10 goals in 14 starts at Oxford United last season.
Of the sides to just miss out on the Top Six last season, Oxford United (20/1), Southend United (25/1), Rochdale (40/1) and Bristol Rovers (22/1) all have decent chances of challenging again this time around.
I was shocked to see Rochdale are such long-odds to challenge again this season. Keith Hill is right at home at Spotland and it's obvious what's to be expected from him. The signing of Reece Brown from local rivals Bury is an attempt to sure up their frail defence, whilst the addition of Matt Done on a free from Sheffield United could end up being one of the deals of the summer.
Sheffield United fans have had nothing but praise for his efforts whilst at Bramall Lane and if he can fill the void left by the departures of Matty Lund (Burton), Nathaniel Mendez-Laing (Cardiff) and Peter Vincenti (Coventry), I see no reason why Rochdale can't at least challenge the top half of the table, especially if they can improve their away form.
Phil Brown is doing an exceptional job with Southend United, steering them to 7th in League One last season and only missing out on the play-offs on the final day of the season - pipped by eventual winners Millwall. The Shrimpers lost four of their final six games to miss out in heart-breaking fashion, but will be keen to build on last year.
The additions of Michael Kightly and Michael Turner brings with it a wealth of higher division experience, with both players dropping below the Championship for the first time since 2006.
Two of the sides promoted from League Two in the 2015/16 season, Oxford United and Bristol Rovers enjoyed unexpected success in the league last season - finishing 8th and 10th respectively.
Oxford United are a bit of unknown quantity heading into their season opener at Oldham Athletic under Spanish coach Pep Clotet. The 40-year-old built a reputation as a talented assistant manager at both Leeds and Swansea, and has added much-needed experience at the back in Mike Williamson, as well as a little Spanish flair in midfield with 22-year-old Xemi from Barcelona.
Bristol Rovers have managed to tie Darrell Clarke down to a long-term contract, as he looks to build on their impressive home form last season. The Gas won 13 of their 19 games at the Memorial Stadium, falling to just four defeats there all season. The additions of Liam Sercombe and Sam Slocombe from Oxford and Blackpool respectively is good summer business, but they may need a little more if they are to challenge.
Karl Robinson's side Charlton Athletic (18/1), Karl Robinson's former side MK Dons (14/1) and Lee Clark's Bury (28/1) are all well fancied, despite all falling well short of the mark last season, whilst League One new-boys Doncaster Rovers (40/1) and Plymouth Argyle (50/1) will want to find themselves in the mix.
Charlton were never really able to find their feet last season, with much of it marred by protests and off-field activity. It comes as no surprise to see them faring well in the betting, with the additions of Billy Clarke, Mark Marshall and, most importantly, Ben Reeves from Robinson's former side MK Dons. Their 6-1 thumping of Ipswich in their final pre-season friendly is bound to have filled them with confidence and the Addicks can be positive about the season ahead.
37-year-old Robbie Neilson faired pretty well during his first season of management in English football and has used his first summer transfer window to reshape the Dons' midfield.
Losing 2nd and 3rd top scorers Ben Reeves (rejected contract) and Dean Bowditch (released), as well as influential midfield man George Baldock (Sheffield United, £650k) could have been difficult for Neilson, but he's replaced them with 6ft 5in French midfielder Ousseynou Cissé from Ligue 2 side Tours and a host of young midfielders. Gboly Ariyibi (22), Aaron Tshibola (22) and Connor McGrandles (21) have joined from Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa and Norwich City respectively.
Of all the sides in League One, it could be Bury that have done the best transfer business in the summer window. Lee Clark has made FOURTEEN additions to his squad this season, with some huge names arriving at Gigg Lane. Jermaine Beckford, Jay O'Shea, Chris Maguire and Harry Bunn all add a wealth of experience to The Shakers attack, whilst marquee signing Stephen Dawson adds a bit of bite to last season's easily-bypassed midfield.
They have strengthened in almost every position, though Beckford will have to rediscover his form of old if he's to fill the 24-goal gap created by James Vaughan's move to Sunderland. Vaughan's tenacity would drag Bury through games last season and it'll be interesting to see how they replace that.
Another one I was surprised to see at such long odds is last season's League Two runners-up Plymouth Argyle. The Green Army didn't leave the automatic promotion places once after Matchday Six, and spent 102 days at the top of the division, so to see them at five times the price Portsmouth are seems bizarre.
Derek Adams has kept hold of top scorers Graham Carey and Jake Jervis, who scored 27 goals between them in League Two last season, as well as every single player to play more than 50% of possible minutes last season. This means they have kept their core squad together and with the addition of players like Morecambe Player of the Year Ryan Edwards, Joel Grant from rivals Exeter and a man who experienced League One promotion last year in Gregg Wylde, Argyle could be a real dark horse.
Fellow League Two graduates Doncaster Rovers spent more time at the summit of the fourth tier than Plymouth did, sitting atop the league table for an impressive 129 days. They too were pipped on the final day of the campaign, picking up just one point from their final five league matches and surrendering a TEN point lead to hand Portsmouth the league title.
If there's anything we can expect from Doncaster this season, it's probably goals. John Marquis, having finally extended his contract until 2020, Tommy Rowe and James Coppinger pose a huge attacking threat, whilst Darren Ferguson hasn't really addressed the defensive frailties that saw them concede 15 goals more than the champions last season. He does have form though, having been promoted from League One twice with Peterborough, and that could play a huge role if Doncaster are looking to make a Championship return this season.
Speaking of Peterborough (28/1), , it looks as if their season hopes rest on the adaptation of prolific non-league goalscorers and the retention of key players from last season. As it stands it looks like Marcus Maddison will be staying, which is a huge positive for manager Grant McCann, as chairman Darragh MacAnthony continues with his insistence of signing Non-League players.
Ricky Miller scored 40 goals in 41 games for Dover Athletic in the National League last season, but he isn't getting any younger and at 28 it's definitely now or never for the striker - who has had 24 spells at 18 different club - whilst 25-year-old Danny Lloyd scored 22 times for Stockport County in the National League North. Posh have a good record when it comes to these sort of things though, picking up Craig MacKail-Smith from Conference side Dagenham & Redbridge in 2007. He scored 99 goals in 212 appearances, hitting 20+ in two separate League One seasons before being sold for £2.5m in 2011.
Northampton Town (13/2 for Relegation) have quietly gone about their business this summer, so much so that I actually forgot they were in League One.
The Cobblers' bubble burst last season after around 16 gameweeks, as Justin Edinburgh's side found themselves in freefall - going from 5th to flirting with relegation with a run of 10 losses in 12 over the Christmas period. Former-Gillingham manager Edinburgh was able to steady the ship by reigniting the home form that had seen them promoted from League Two the season before. They only lost two of their 10 games at Sixfields from January onwards.
They will need their centre-backs to gel and the likes of new-signings Daniel Powell and Billy Waters to ease the reliance on an aging attack if they are to avoid second-season syndrome.
Rotherham United (9/1) and Blackpool (7/4) will be looking to ensure their returns to League One football aren't cut short by the trap door.
Rotherham were relegated from the Championship last season whilst barely putting up a fight, losing 33 of their 46 games and failing to win a single game away from home. The Millers hit the bottom of the table at the end of September and didn't leave that spot until they were relegated.
Paul Warne, as nice as he is, hasn't really shown enough to make me think he's the man to lead Rotherham back up to the second tier and they'll have to get over the abysmal results of last season fairly quickly if they're to avoid dropping again. The loss of Danny Ward to Cardiff will have come as a real blow to their chances, but the savvy additions of David Ball from Fleetwood and Jamie Proctor from Bolton are not to be sniffed at.
Blackpool, similar to Charlton, have spent much of the past few seasons battling the off-field demons that continue to haunt them. The Oystons have been a plague upon Blackpool and despite The Seasiders gaining a surprise promotion via the play-offs, the tension between board and fans hasn't settled.
The retention of key players like Mark Cullen and Brad Potts will be crucial to give them any hope of surviving without investment, with Gary Bowyer likely to be heavily reliant on the loan market this year.
AFC Wimbledon (4/1) and Walsall (5/2 are much weaker than they were last year, when both finished in comfortable mid-table positions.
The Dons have had last season's best performers picked and plundered during the summer transfer window, with three of their better performers gone before the season has started. Arguably their best technical player in Jake Reeves has been nabbed by promotion hopefuls Bradford, whilst Goalkeeper James Shea was released and Player of the Year Tom Elliot moved on after rejecting a new contract. George Long and Cody McDonald have both arrived as replacements for the duo, but it looks likely to be a long season ahead for Neal Ardley.
Walsall may also struggle after losing two of their stand-out performers of last season in goalkeeper Neil Etheridge and defender Jason McCarthy. The duo have been replaced by Carlisle's Mark Gillespie and Sheffield United's James Wilson, but they are yet to strengthen an attack that only scored 51 times last season - which could see them relying on Erhun Oztumer's goals from midfield once again.
Realistically, The Saddlers still haven't replaced the likes of Romaine Sawyers and Tom Bradshaw - who they lost last summer - and may really struggle this year without significant change.
The bookies' favourites for the drop are Gillingham (13/8), Shrewsbury (13/8) and Oldham Athletic (6/4). The trio finished 20th, 18th and 17th respectively last season, though Shrewsbury and Oldham both spent considerable time in the relegation zone.
The £750,000 Gillingham received for Bradley Dack is probably half of what they could have got the season before when Dack won Player of the Year, though after a largely ineffective season some fans will be glad to see the back of him and his fake tan.
I'm not convinced by former Forest Green manager Adrian Pennock though. His impact at the Priestfield Stadium was minimal, picking up just 21 points in 20 games, conceding 39 goals in the process and it's that leaky defence that he will have to sort if The Gills are going to make it a sixth consecutive season in League One.
The arrival of Gabriel Zakuani looks a step in the right direction, on paper, though the arrival of Alex Lacey from Yeovil Town is arguably a much better deal. The 24-year-old was awarded the Supporters Club and Community Trust Player of the Season trophies at the end of last season, and was the subject of interest from the likes of Bournemouth and Millwall a few years ago. The sheer physical combination of Conor Wilkinson (6ft 3in) and Tom Eaves (6ft 5in) could see the duo bullying defenders next season, and it's a good start as the Kent club will have to be less timid if they're to remain in the division this season.
Shrewsbury may be in the lead when it comes to safe standing in the Football League, but they're flagging behind where it matters and are one of the clear favourites to go down. The Shrews have never really kicked on following their 2015 promotion and are likely to struggle again this season.
Paul Hurst took over the club when they were rooted to the bottom of the table, six points from safety, but managed to steer them away from the danger zone with some good results - especially at New Meadow. There's no chance the likes of Abu Ogogo and Toto Nsiala will go down without a fight, but Salop aren't technically better than their opponents anymore and their reliance on outplaying teams will be tested by their lack of any real quality.
Goals were hard to come by last season too; with midfielder Louis Dodds their top scorer on eight, followed by now Wigan-loanee Ivan Toney on six and Junior Brown on five.
When John Sheridan took over at Oldham Athletic for a third time in January last year, the Latics really were up shit creek without a paddle. Enjoying their 20th consecutive season in League One, it looked as though it was finally time for relegation. Three points adrift at the bottom of the league and having only scored TWELVE goals in 24 games - to put this in to context, Billy Sharp had scored 17 for Sheffield United by this same point.
Sheridan completely turned the Latics' form around, picking up 34 points in 22 games, and had Oldham on run that would have seen them around the play-offs over the course of a full season. This was largely down to their colossal defensive displays, with centre-backs Anthony Gerrard and Peter Clarke throwing themselves at anything and Middlesbrough loanee Connor Ripley stopping everything else that they couldn't.
They have lost some key personnel over the summer though, with Ripley - who kept an incredible 18 clean sheets - and top scorer Lee Erwin returning to their parent clubs after the expiry of their loans. Sheridan has tried in vain to negotiate a return for Ripley, but to no avail. The permanent capture of Brighton loanee Rob Hunt is a great deal though, whilst the additions of Craig Davies and Courtney Duffus could inject that little extra firepower that Latics need.
Stability has been the name of the game this summer at Ice Station Zebra as this is the first time since 2014 that a manager has stayed at Boundary Park over the summer and, tipped for relegation every season, you'd be a fool to ever write Oldham Athletic off after 21 years of League One football.
Wigan to finish in the Top Six at evens.
If they keep hold of the likes of Sam Morsy and Will Grigg over the summer, I see no reason why Wigan won't at least be a Top Six side.
Bradford to finish in the Top Six at 13/8.
With the goals of Charlie Wyke and the technical brilliance of Jake Reeves, Bradford look like a great shout to be in amongst it come the end of the season.
Bury to finish in the Top Half at 5/6.
The Shakers have upgraded in almost every position and if they haven't gambled the future of the club by pinning their hopes on instant success, Lee Clark could guide them to a very respectable finish.
Plymouth to finish in the Top Half at 6/4.
Again, I find it so strange that Portsmouth - with a change of manager - are such lower odds than their equivalent from last season. Take a chance on Plymouth catching a few off guard.
Rotherham to finish in the Bottom Half at 10/11.
I'm not convinced by Paul Warne at all and the loss of Danny Ward could see them in big trouble.
Oldham Athletic to Stay Up at 8/15.
John Sheridan seems to love it at Boundary Park and, even though they're favourites for relegation, you can never write off Oldham Athletic in League One.
Shrewsbury to be Relegated at 13/8.
Salop have finally met their maker in League One and it looks like it's back to the basement division for the Shropshire club.
Will Grigg to be League One Top Goalscorer at 14/1.
Grigg probably has one of the best midfields in League One behind him and he absolutely loves it down here. Don't be surprised to see him reach the heights of 2015/16.
Ricky Miller to be League One Top Goalscorer at 16/1.
Miller proved himself in a big way at Dover Athletic and, though this is a massive step up, 40 goals in 41 games is a serious statement.
Charlie Wyke to be League One Top Goalscorer at 16/1.
I used to back Wyke to score quite regularly when he was banging them in at Carlisle last season, He hit 14 in 26 for the Cumbrians before chipping in with seven in 16 for The Bantams, he's a potent goalscorer and I wouldn't rule him out of firing Bradford back to the Play-Off Final.