As the clock ticks down to the start of the npower Football League season, our resident football league expert Terry Pierce rounds up his previews by taking a look at the Championship.
England's second tier is an absolute gem, and massively underrated. A mix of massive clubs buoyed by parachute payments and plucky underdogs who have climbed the leagues results in 10 months of unpredictable, anyone-beats-anyone football.So it's hard to guess who's going to top the tree come next May, and who's going to win the ninety-million-pound play-off final, but that's half the fun.
The three sides who have dropped from the Premier League usually have cash to splash, but with Hull and Portsmouth spending so much money on average players in their bid for survival, it'll take them years to recover.
Burnley, on the other hand, were very sensible during their first season in the top tier and have added really well. Chris Iwelumo and a fat fee for Steven Fletcher is a great deal, and if they can complete the signing of Lee Grant to replace the overrated Brian "Beast" Jensen they'll be right in the race, although there are still concerns over manager Brian Laws.
Losing play-off finalists Cardiff, like Hull and Pompey, won't have the cash to challenge, but Leicester and Nottingham Forest will push for promotion, although fall short and slip into the play-offs again.
Middlesbrough - or the SPL select XI as they are slowly becoming - have got the cheque book out over the summer and look like they're going to have a real crack at the top two. Kris Boyd should score goals while Kevin Thomson should add some real class in front of their young back four.
Bristol City have completed the most eye-catching signing of the summer in David James, but a deeper look will reveal that they didn't really need a keeper and have lost a couple of players. However, they have one of the best managers in that league in Steve Coppell, and another crack at the top six beckons.
Coppell's former club Reading, along with usual suspects Sheffield United, Ipswich and QPR will also be looking to get back among the promotion race, and Doncaster will be hoping to improve on their upper-midtable finish.
At the other end, the three promoted sides - Millwall, Leeds and Norwich - should be fine, and one of them could have a real go at the top six.
The usual suspects will be battling the drop. Scunthorpe boss Nigel Adkins has been working miracles for so long now but this campaign could be one too many, especially after losing Gary Hooper to Celtic.
After years of budget cutting, Watford looked doomed unless they utilise the loan market very well, while Pompey look as if they could fall straight through the trap door despite the best efforts of Steve Cotterill.
And my surprising tip for the drop? Swansea City. Having lost their boss Paolo Sousa, Darren Pratley and Angel Rangel both look to be following him out of the club. New manager Brendan Rogers hardly comes with glowing references from Reading and Watford fans and with their well-documented goal-scoring problems still remaining and with more players leaving than arriving, they look like struggling.
But, to be honest, it's a wasted exercise trying to predict the Championship, so lump your hard-earned cash on Swansea for the title, Watford to win the play-offs and Burnley, Boro and Bristol City to go down.
The only things that are guaranteed are incredible drama, unexpected results and surprising promotion challenges.
In the words of Jamie Oliver - Beautiful.
Tip for the top Middlesbrough
Outside bet Bristol City
Destined for the drop Watford
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