Ah, The Championship. Treated with scorn by fans of clubs in the league above, and also by many fans of clubs in it. No-one really wants to be in this division; they all have aspirations to be higher up the ladder.
But as I've written previously, it deserves more respect than it gets. Quality players and quality football can be found here. And no prisoners are taken; anyone who fancies themselves as too good for this level tends to be humbled pretty swiftly. As one Dundee United fan put it to me last year, "You don't know you're in this league till you've been bodied by Dumbarton".
Dumbarton aren't here any more, but here are this season's ten runners and riders:
The only part-time team, they came up via the playoffs despite finishing a distant third in League One last season. Surely they can't be as bad as Brechin were last year, but while they will win a few games there's virtually no chance of them surviving.
They were promoted back to the Championship after a year out on the back of some extraordinary goalscoring by Lawrence Shankland. If as expected he leaves by the end of the transfer window, they will find it very hard as they've largely stuck with the squad that took them up. However, they can take heart from Livingston's feats last year and will be stiff opponents.
Csaba Laszlo has already had the vote of confidence and we've not even started the league campaign. The Hungarian has signed another twelve players already this summer and in theory guys like Adam Barton, Frederic Frans, Craig Curran, Nicky Clark and Callum Booth should stroll this league. But there is a real worry that there will be a repeat of last year, with a team that struggles to gel and a manager who gets his jotters early doors.
The Pars thoroughly deserved their playoff place last season and finished the campaign well. The loss of strikers Nicky Clark and Declan McManus and defensive linchpin Callum Morris was a huge blow, but confidence has been restored by the return of Faissal El Bakhtaoui, which will probably double the number of long range shots in the division this year. Joe Thomson and James Vincent (if consistently fit) should give them a formidable engine room and they'll believe they can pick up where they left off.
The great unknowns - Paul Hartley has signed fifteen players so far, most of them youngsters from the English lower leagues. It's a bold strategy Cotton, let's see if it pays off. Marcus Haber, loaned from Dundee, looks like the best capture to me. They could genuinely finish anywhere between first (if they've signed a bunch of starlets) and ninth place (if they're all diddies).
Morton will hope they have got the Raith Rovers Ray MacKinnon in the dugout, rather than the Dundee United Ray MacKinnon. The squad has been overhauled, with several first teamers leaving; disappointingly promising youngsters Jai Quitongo and Scott Tiffoney have declined new deals too. Jim McAlister and Chris Millar return for their second spells at the club, bringing a combined age of 68 to the centre of midfield. They need another returnee, Denny Johnstone to get amongst the goals if they are to challenge.
Caley Thistle produced some remarkable form in the spring and came remarkably close to the playoffs considering their nightmare start. They've lost only one first choice player this summer - but Iain Vigurs was arguably the most vital cog of all. Coll Donaldson and Liam Polworth are too of the most underrated players in the Championship, and if Nathan Austin can continue to score regularly then they will fancy their chances.
Thistle stuck with Alan Archibald after relegation but gutted the squad; expect further signings this month but right now they don't have enough players to fill the subs bench. That puts them at high risk of a slow start that could wreck their whole season. However Kris Doolan and Miles Storey should score plenty and that may well compensate for their weaknesses.
Queen of the South
The Doonhamers have been too reliant on Stephen Dobbie for too long and there's increasing worry that the rest of the squad isn't strong enough to keep up with the veteran striker. They've used the loan market well in the past and will need to do so again as they look short of quality and depth.
In contrast to Thistle, County held on to much of their first team squad following relegation and therefore look really strong for a bounceback campaign. Guys like Ross Draper, Billy Mckay and Marcus Fraser should really stroll it in the second tier. There's also depth that every other club will be jealous of. The only concern is the inexperienced managerial duo of Stuart Kettlewell and Steven Ferguson, but unless they stink the place out County look best placed to win this year's Championship.
So this is how I reckon it'll finish:
1. ROSS COUNTY
2. DUNDEE UNITED
3. INVERNESS CT
4. DUNFERMLINE ATHLETIC
5. PARTICK THISTLE
7. GREENOCK MORTON
8. QUEEN OF THE SOUTH
9. AYR UNITED
10. ALLOA ATHLETIC
(Puts on tin hat, awaits incoming)
Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.