TITLE CHALLENGERS

Having come so close last season, it's not a surprise to see Danny Wilson's Sheffield United heading the way as favourites to win the npower League 1 title in 2012/13.

The Blades had looked well set for automatic promotion last time around only to be pipped by city rivals Sheffield Wednesday right at the end of the regular season, but that sent them into the Play-Offs, where they reached Wembley only to lose out to Huddersfield Town after an epic penalty shoot-out.

They got their competitive fixtures underway this season with a Capital One Cup exit at the hands of npower League 2 side Burton Albion - ironically on penalties again - and kick-off their npower League 1 campaign at home to Shrewsbury Town on Saturday.

After the disappointment of last season, Wilson has evolved rather than revolved his squad - a few players have left Bramall Lane following the conclusion of their contracts, while highly-rated youngster Matthew Lowton moved to Aston Villa in a big-money move. Experience has arrived in the shape of Matt Hill and Tony McMahon, along with more younger blood including Crewe Alexandra striker Shaun Miller.

Whether the Blades suffer any form of Play-Off hangover remains to be seen but Wilson will be keen to ensure that all memories of their Wembley heartbreak are well and truly banished as he looks to return the club to the npower Championship.

Not far behind the Blades in the reckoning are Milton Keynes Dons, who have been regular promotion contenders over the last few years but are yet to take the next step forward.

For 2011/12 read 2010/11 and 2008/09 - in each of those seasons the Dons have lost out in the semi-finals of the npower League 1 Play-Offs and they will be hoping that their three failures will not become a noose around their neck as they get their 2012/13 campaign underway.

The summer signing of the experienced Alan Smith - following a successful loan spell in Milton Keynes last season - could well be a stroke of genius by their young manager Karl Robinson, now embarking on his third season in charge.

Also in is Ryan Lowe, a promotion-winner with Sheffield Wednesday last season, while 31-year-old boss Robinson has introduced to his coaching staff Mick Harford, who ended his playing career at the old Wimbledon, along with a new first-team coach - Ian Wright, a goalscoring legend in his own playing days, most notably with Arsenal and England.

But, while they may be the two leading favourites for title, you can rest assured that there will be plenty of other clubs fancying their own chances of top spot.

ON THE FRINGE

Newly-promoted Swindon Town are fancied to cause a bit of a stir in their first season back in npower League 1 after romping to the npower League 2 title last season.

They finished top of the table with room to spare and under their charismatic manager Paolo Di Canio there is always a feeling that anything could happen - and quite often does - as illustrated by the impact the Italian had after his unexpected arrival.

There is no doubt that he has galvanised the Robins and after leading them to the title, he saw his side start their current campaign with a resounding 3-0 win over Brighton & Hove Albion in the Capital One Cup on Tuesday night.

Dark horses could well be found in the shape of Preston North End who have undergone a summer of change under boss Graham Westley.

Westley has been involved in more than 25 transfers in and out of Deepdale as he restructures his squad ahead of his first full campaign in charge following his move from Stevenage last season.

He has taken on three of his former Stevenage players in John Mousinho, Scott Laird and Chris Beardsley, and it will be intriguing to see how everything settles down after such a busy summer.

They were relegated from the Championship in 2011 and finished a disappointing 15th last time around so they will be looking to return to the second tier, as will Coventry City - who came down at the end of last season.

The Sky Blues endured a difficult 2011/12 and their summer has also been challenging due to some difficult off-field circumstances but having held on to several of their key players, though some have departed for pastures new, they are backed to be contenders for promotion.

It's only 25 years ago that Coventry lifted the FA Cup at Wembley but they are now in the third tier for the first time in almost half a century so they will be desperate to get themselves in shape for an assault on returning to the npower Championship.

Bournemouth have been there or thereabouts in npower League 1 over the last couple of seasons having reached the Play-Offs in 2010/11 and only a spring slump kept them away from the top six last time around but under Paul Groves they are reckoned to be in with a shout in 2012/13.

The Cherries have only ever encountered three seasons in the second tier - 1987/88, 1988/89 and 1989/90 - but are a club looking up rather than down.

THE NEW BOYS

We have already looked at Coventry City, relegated from the npower Championship, and Swindon Town, promoted as champions of npower League 2, but there are still five other clubs lining up in League 1 this season having arrived from elsewhere.

Down with the Sky Blues are Doncaster Rovers and Portsmouth, who - it's fair to say - find themselves in vastly different circumstances.

Doncaster's attempt to stay in the npower Championship last season by bringing in bigger names on short-term contracts failed and under Dean Saunders they have taken a more modest approach to their summer transfers, bringing in experienced players like Robbie Blake and David Cotterill, although losing Brian Stock and George Friend will be felt within the team.

Portsmouth's situation can best be described as "desperate". Relegated from the npower Championship last season after falling into administration for the second time in a couple of years, they have lost all of their senior players during the close season.

Manager Michael Appleton had to field a team made up almost entirely of teenagers for their Capital One Cup exit at Plymouth Argyle in midweek, while their prospective saviour Balu Chanrai has pulled out of his bid to buy the club again.

At the time of writing, the Portsmouth Supporters Trust has the only bid on the table but there is still a lot to be done to ensure the club's survival.

Up from npower League 2 behind champions Swindon Town are runners-up Shrewsbury Town, third-placed Crawley Town and Play-Off winners Crewe Alexandra.

None are expected to struggle with Crawley backed to be the side most likely to threaten a third successive promotion, although it will be interesting to see how they respond to their first full season without manager Steve Evans, who guided them up from the Blue Square Premier and most of the way through npower League 2.

They briefly appointed Sean O'Driscoll during the summer but he soon moved on to Nottingham Forest so the Red Devils then gave the managerial job to Richie Barker - who had guided Bury to promotion from npower League 2 in 2011.

Shrewsbury, having been in the Play-Offs twice in recent seasons, finally made the next step last season and were joined by Crewe, who beat Cheltenham Town in the Wembley final.

Both clubs will be looking to consolidate in the third tier and stay well clear of trouble.