I couldn't envisage Essex being crowned county champions this time last year but they found a formula to win matches and cantered to the title after triumphing in 10 of 14 fixtures.
Teams that play on a wicket that does a little bit, whether that be seam or spin, and can produce pitches that suit their attack tend to be in the mix and I can see Essex lifting the trophy again.
Im sure Surrey will be there or thereabouts but what stops them going the distance is an inability to get sufficient wins; there are too many draws at The Oval as wickets there flatten out. If Surrey could produce a result pitch or two then theyll go close.
I believe the challengers to my front-runners Essex will be Nottinghamshire following their return to Division One, Somerset and perhaps even Hampshire, who have made some canny signings.
Yorkshire are a strong side but they do lose a lot of players to international calls ups. Im confident they wont be in any danger but theyre not the force they once were. In terms of relegation, my tips for the drop are Worcestershire and Lancashire.
Turning to Division Two, it was a shock to see Middlesex go down 12 months after winning the title but I reckon theyll come straight back up. They have firepower in seamers Steven Finn and Toby Roland-Jones and class batsmen like Sam Robson and Dawid Malan.
Warwickshire and Sussex have good players and, for me, theyll be the main threat to Middlesex. If I was a betting man, Id say Warwickshire will gain promotion too, with Kent and Durham joining Sussex in the chasing pack.