I'm simply going to come out and say it: Portsmouth will win League One this season.
There are a fair few reasons why I believe the upcoming campaign will be such a successful one for Pompey. Whilst the squad no longer contains the best centre back and the best winger in the division last season, Kenny Jackett has done an admirable job of rebuilding a squad that only finished six points off the summit last season and the makeup of Legaue One looks weaker this time around with no dominant clubs in it.
In John Marquis the Blues possess one of the most lethal strikers in the division and so long as he doesn't miss many games, he should guarantee at least 20 goals this season. To have the attacking talents of Ronan Curtis, Marcus Harness, Brett Pitman, Gareth Evans, Ryan Williams, Ben Close, Oli Hawkins and Ellis Harrison to support him by either chipping in with the goals or supplying him with quality service to score himself is ridiculous for this level and there can be no excuses for not finding the net in any fixture this season due to how versatile the attacking players are.
Whilst the defence will clearly miss Matt Clarke's quality, there have been two solid recruits signed to replace him in Paul Downing and Sean Raggett whilst Christian Burgess' form at the latter stages of last season keeps him in contention for selection this season and Jack Whatmough will soon return, giving Jackett the option to pick from four quality centre backs.
in Craig MacGillivray Pompey have one of the division's most consistent goalkeepers and in front of his back four Ross McCrorie seems to be the Ben Thompson replacement the team clearly needed in the second half of last season. Tom Naylor should do the usual dependable job beside him and form a formidable barrier in front of goal.
Nathan Thompson's shenanigans will be missed and it's not clear how ample a replacement James Bolton will be and on the other flank Lee Brown does a solid but unspectacular job, so this is the season that Anton Walkes and Brandan Haunstrup have to step up and make a challenge for those positions if they're ever going to be mainstays in the first eleven this season. The fullback positions look to be the weakest going into this campaign and could need strengthening in January.
Speaking of strengtening in January, this bold prediction of Pompey to win the league is reliant on the owners learning from their mistakes of the past two seasons and backing the manager to improve the squad properly with quality permanent additions rather than loans that weren't up to the job in previous years.
Pompey paid the price for failing to replace Ben Thompson last season and Danny Rose the season before that and as a result the team fell apart during winter and by the time they eventually recovered, the damage had already been done.
This prediction also comes with some other caveats, namely Marquis stays fit and doesn't flop, Curtis rediscovers his form from 2018 now he has had a proper rest, McCrorie isn't recalled by Rangers and the cup competitions which took their toll on the squad last season are binned off as soon as possible with the eyes firmly focused on the main prize of promotion.
There's also the slight niggling feeling that this squad still doesn't have a true leader to drag it through the difficult times. There's no character in the Michael Doyle or Sol Campbell mould to keep things together when the going gets tough.
However, there is more than enough quality in this squad to win promotion and it's managed by a man who has been there and done it before. Serious questions will be asked if promotion isn't achieved this season but I have faith that this rejuvenated and more balanced squad fully of quality has the credentials to go all the way and win the title.
Not content with predicting how Pompey will win the league this season, I've also predicted how the other 23 teams in the division will fare. If fans of other clubs are reading, feel free to send me abuse on Twitter after reading these, but I feel most of these predictions are justified.
Tipped for the drop because of the club's size and lack of resources for the second season running, Stanley have a man in charge who knows what he is doing in John Coleman and there are some talented players in the side such as Seamus Conneely and Sean McConville. However, Billy Kee needs to be available as soon as possible to score the goals to keep Stanley up, otherwise where else will they come from?
Prediction: 18th - So long as Kee plays his part, Stanley will survive. If not, they could quite easily be relegated.
Every season there is one team who goes on a shock promotion charge when nobody suspects it and this season I believe it will be Wimbledon. Wally Downes did a superb job in keeping the Dons up last season and has made a few obscure signings that might just work having only really lost Deji Oshilaja in the summer. A bold prediction, but this could be the best ever season for the Dons.
Prediction: 7th - Obviously this could be well off but of all the teams likely to spring a surprise, Wimbledon are my pick to push for promotion but just miss out.
The good times are coming back for the Tangerines now that the Oystons have gone and a popular manager in Simon Grayson has returned. He might have struggled at crisis clubs Bradford and Sunderland but he knows how to win promotion from League One and has made some interesting attacking options in Sulley Kaikai and Ben Tollitt with a couple of shrewd acquisitions in Ryan Edwards and Jamie Devitt. This could be a season to remember for Blackpool.
Prediction: 6th - The squad looks good enough to challenge for the play-offs and Grayson knows how to get the best out of his players at a club he knows well. Recipe for promotion.
What an absolute bloody mess Bolton are and because the projected takeover is yet to happen, they start the season with a paper-thin squad of professional players and a twelve point deduction. Their situation reminds me of Pompey in 2012/2013 and we all know how awful that was. It also wouldn't be surprising to see Phil Parkinson jump ship to a needy Championship club like QPR or Reading early in the season just to rub salt in the wounds.
Prediction: 23rd - There's a small chance the takeover can see some quality additions to the squad quickly and Bolton can turn their situation around but it's unlikely and the abyss of League Two beckons.
Rovers' squad was mediocre last season and the summer additions don't look too inspiring on paper. Luke Leahy was part of a leaky Walsall defence last season and the forwards brought in don't look like they'll ease the goalscoring burden on Jonson Clarke-Harris. Add to this the departures of Tom Lockyer and Chris Lines combined with a rookie manager and a season of struggle may loom for Rovers.
Prediction: 20th - Rovers could quite easily go down if Clarke-Harris misses a portion of the season but if he's fit and firing then that should be enough to keep a squad lacking quality in League One for another season. Just.
Nigel Clough is a solid manager and had Burton firing on all cylinders towards the end of last season. Bigger clubs poaching their best players will always be a problem for Burton and losing Harness to Pompey and Jamie Allen & Kyle MacFazdean to Coventry will be a blow, but the likes of Lucas Akins and Liam Boyce should score the goals to keep the Brewers ticking over.
Prediction: 9th - Likely to make a challenge for promotion again because of how weak the league looks on paper but squad depth will be a problem if the injuries mount.
What can you say about this absolute basket case of a football club? It's disgraceful how Bury has been treated by its owners and the EFL who are clearly not fit for purpose. Their second fixture against Accrington has now been postponed and they have lost the vast majority of their promotion winning squad. Relegation is certain if the club somehow manages to survive but even that seems doubtful given the club's current situation. Bury fans deserve so much better than this shambles.
Prediction: 24th - That's if they even get to compete this season. The sole focus for the Shakers is simply to have a stable football club now considering what Stuart Day and Steven Dale's mismanagement has done to it. Disgusting.
Another club in a mess but at least Mark Robins has a good squad to work with. Marko Marosi is a great goalkeeper and there have been other solid additions over the summer but the Sky Blues have also lost some players who can make a difference too (although getting £1 million for Conor Chaplin was a superb deal.) Playing away from Coventry will probably have a bigger impact on the team than some people think but a play-off push is still possible.
Prediction: 14th - This might seem a bit low but effectively Coventry are playing every game away from home and there are more clubs in League One in a better position to challenge for promotion.
This is likely going to be a transitional season for Donny. They've lost key players in Marquis, Marosi, Butler and Wilks whilst Grant McCann left for Hull and was replaced by Darren Moore who did a fair job at West Brom but nothing outstanding hence his sacking. They may rebuild and spend some of their transfer kitty next week with Alex Baptiste, Niall Ennis and Cameron John coming in and therefore should be secure in mid-table.
Prediction: 15th - Would do extremely well to repeat last season's achievements which were already seen as outperforming their expectations.
Although the summer's recruitment has been shrewd by bringing in quality such as Paul Coutts, Jordan Rossitter and Josh Morris, it's difficult to believe that any squad managed by a thug like Joey Barton will achieve what they should be. Losing Ched Evans means the goalscoring pressure increases on Paddy Madden and Ashley Hunter too.
Prediction: 13th - If the club ditches Barton early on then the Cod Army could and should finish higher than this but they are likely to keep faith whatever happens to him and that could well cost Fleetwood in the future.
Hate him or loathe him, Steve Evans has a good record at lower league level and although his appointment will make the Gills one of the most disliked teams in the division, that siege mentality is likely to work in their favour. Losing Tom Eaves and Tomas Holy are huge blows but there are players in Evans' squad who will want to prove a point.
Prediction: 12th - Despite losing two key players, Evans seems to have got the fans on side and so long as he and his chairman can avoid coming to blows, Gillingham will have a solid season with foundations to build on in the future.
The Tractor Boys are much like Sunderland from last season where they come down from the Championship after a woeful season and will be everyone's cup final fixture this season because of the size of the club. Relying on a young squad with little money to improve it will hamper Ipswich but if Paul Lambert keeps the fans happy, he has the experience to get his team into the play-offs at least so long as James Norwood can keep up his excellent goalscoring record he had at Tranmere.
Prediction: 5th - It may take some time to recover and rebuild from last season's trauma and ex-Norwich boss Lambert simply has to start well to stop things going awry. But the squad is good enough to challenge for promotion although might just fall short.
The Imps have built on their League Two title winning campaign with some clever signings such as Jorge Grant, Jack Payne and Tyler Grant who will give them that extra attacking edge. If the Cowleys stay stay then there's no reason why Lincoln couldn't reproduce Luton's exploits from last season however I believe they'll finally be prised away from an established but struggling Championship club such as Swansea or Hull and that can only harm Lincoln's chances.
Prediction: 10th - This prediction is based on the Cowleys leaving during the season. If they stay, the play-offs beckon for the League Two champions as they take advantage of a division that doesn't look too strong on paper.
Milton Keynes Dons
Paul Tisdale is a superb manager whose footballing principles have won him plaudits and his brand of attacking football should work better in League One with fewer teams playing anti-football than in the fourth tier. It'll be interesting to see how Joe Mason plays after never getting a look in at Pompey and losing Chuks Aneke is a blow, but MK Dons have enough quality to go far this season.
Prediction: 8th - A few alterations to a squad that got promoted playing the right way is reminiscient of what Luton did last season and that proved to be very successful in the end. MK's squad isn't as strong but they should still make a promotion challenge.
The U's are a difficult club to predict as their squad has some good players and the manager is capable of delivering if he stops throwing hissy fits every five minutes. A lot will depend on how the replacements for Gavin Whyte and Curtis Nelson perform but Oxford could easily challenge for promotion or fight a relegation battle.
Prediction: 16th - Honestly, this is just an arbitrary number I plucked out of the air for Oxford. Whilst it wouldn't be surprising to see Karl Robinson's side struggle, he and his team are also capable of more if luck goes their way.
There's a buzz about the Posh because they got their transfer business done early and made some excellent additions to a quality squad (on paper at least) whilst Darren Ferguson is back at the club where he has won promotion before and trusted by the chairman to repeat the feat. However, Mo Eisa is still an unproven talent and there are always going to be questions asked of the team defensively.
Prediction: 4th - If everything clicks the Posh may finish even higher but they've let pundits down in the past and they can't rely on outscoring every team in the division. It'll be an exciting season for Peterborough whatever it may bring.
I don't hold out much hope for Dale as although Brian Barry-Murphy did well to keep them up last season, he's no Keith Hill and once again an otherwise mediocre squad will be relying on the ageing Ian Henderson to score the goals to keep them up. Almost certain to be in a relegation battle until the end.
Prediction: 21st - Sorry Dale fans, but a leaky defence and lack of attack combined with an inexperienced manager is a recipe for relegation.
Having only just been relegated from the Championship last season, the Millers should be in good shape to challenge for promotion once again despite losing Semi Ajayi and Will Vaulks in the summer. Freddie Ladapo should score plenty of goals and Paul Warne has proven to be an excellent manager for Rotherham.
Prediction: 3rd - Should be in the promotion mix right until the end but I believe they'll just fall short of the automatics.
Sam Ricketts has quietly been building a solid squad up in Salop. Ethan Ebanks-Landell and Aaron Pierre are quality additions to what looks like being a stubborn defence whilst Steve Morison coming in from Millwall could be an inspired signing despite his advancing years. Many will tip the Shrews for a relegation battle but I don't see that being the case.
Prediction: 11th - Probably don't have enough to challenge for the play-offs but there is reason for Shrewsbury to be optimistic of a top half finish.
Kevin Bond was rewarded with the Shrimpers job full time after keeping them in League One last season and I can't help but feel that decision will come back to bite Southend on the arse. They've had to take a few gambles in the transfer market, singing the likes of Liam Ridgewell (remember him?) and Andre Blackman but the goalscoring burden still solely remains on the injury prone Simon Cox. A season of struggle looms.
Prediction: 22nd - Bond isn't a good manager so Southend will need to sack him early on to stand a chance of survival realistically. Even then, I can't help but feel that a squad that scraped survival last season is going to improve this time around.
There can't be any excuses for not winning promotion this season. There have been a few comings and goings in the transfer window with Lee Cattermole and George Honeyman they key players to depart but Marc McNulty should score goals at League One level and the defensive recruitment means the Black Cats should be tough to beat once again. If Will Grigg stays fit for the season, he should bang them in for fun.
Prediction: 2nd - I think Pompey will pip Sunderland to the title just because our squad looks more balanced and we have a manager who has been there and done it, whilst there are still question marks on whether Jack Ross is the man to truly get the best out of a strong squad.
The main question for last season's play-off winners to answer is who is going to score the goals now that James Norwood has left for Ipswich? None of the strikers they have brought in over the summer suggest that they can have the same impact but Mickey Mellon is a shrewd operator at this level and his knowledge plus the promotion momentum should see Tranmere safe.
Prediction: 17th - Likely to be a relegation battle in Birkenhead but there are worse teams in the division than Tranmere and therefore they should survive.
The team everyone loves to hate, Gareth Ainsworth will surely once again earn the ire of the country as his gamesmanship tactics continue and his players do everything they can to shithouse a result. Fred Onyedinma and David Wheeler are the main additions to a poor squad for this level but by hook or crook they should find some way of surviving.
Prediction: 19th - Will survive by the skin of their teeth and having the advantage of playing Bolton on opening day when they have no players could be the difference between League One and League Two football next year.
For those of you who want the TL;DR table:
3) Rotherham United
4) Peterborough United
5) Ipswich Town
7) AFC Wimbledon
8) Milton Keynes Dons
9) Burton Albion
10) Lincoln City
11) Shrewsbury Town
13) Fleetwood Town
14) Coventry City
15) Doncaster Rovers
16) Oxford United
17) Tranmere Rovers
18) Accrington Stanley
19) Wycombe Wanderers
20) Bristol Rovers
22) Southend United
23) Bolton Wanderers