Second season surge for Salford
I don't like talking horses, especially before a 46-hurdle race. A succession of big names have been short-priced favourites to win League Two over the years. Many relegated from League One. Bradford were 9.08/1 favourites before last season.
Another relegated side, Swindon, eventually prevailed but took much time to gel before joining my tip, Plymouth, at the top. Similarly, Portsmouth were short favourites each year they were in the division and only led it once - on the final day they were in it!
I'd rather find a team above 10.09/1, but this year two teams are under that - Bolton Wanderers at 7.06/1, who I'm not going to tip, and Salford City 7.513/2 in the winners market. I've had the Ammies in mind to win 2020-21 from January, when they strengthened and invested.
It is difficult to dismiss Bolton. The Trotters have recruited heavily. It doesn't always serve teams well - certainly not immediately. There are a few oddities about Wanderers - and not that they are another fallen giant of the English game finding themselves in the fourth tier. One season they have financial troubles and can't pay to cement the deal for Forest Green striker Christian Doidge. They also suffered a 12-point deduction.
Now, they have offered Eion Doyle, League Two's top scorer last season, such a good deal (three years for a 32-year-old) that Swindon just couldn't match it. Money has been found, then.
New striker Nathan Delfouneso, 29, formerly of Aston Villa, and Antoni Sarcevic, a central part of Plymouth's promotion from this division, are other additions it is hard to ignore. Ian Evatt, the new manager, gained Barrow's promotion to this division just a few short months ago.
The reasons I like Salford instead include that the owners - led by a group of former Manchester United footballers - backed Graham Alexander to strengthen at the turn of the year. A play-off push seemed a stretch, but they were prepared to have a go. And if they did that then, summer would surely be equally fruitful.
People might worry about so-called "second season syndrome" (it's for doom mongers who believe a second campaign in a new division is tougher because opponents have worked you out). However, the Ammies have won five promotions since 2014. When they stopped in one division for two seasons, they then went up. They have made goal-getting winger Ashley Hunter's loan from Fleetwood permanent, held on to Adam Rooney, added Ian Henderson, 35, who struck 100+ goals for Rochdale in seven years, plus recruited centre-back Jordan Turnbull from promoted Northampton and a few others from higher division such as Preston centre-back Tom Clarke. Evolution, not revolution.
Tranmere are interesting at about 14.013/1 having signed James Vaughan and added Otis Khan, from Mansfield, plus some experience from League One.
Mr Robinson can hone Valiants' promotion bid
Exeter, at 13.012/1 for automatic promotion, have recruited narrowly in defenders Jake Caprice (Tranmere) Lewis Page (Charlton) and Rory McArdle (Scunthorpe). Critically, they have retained striker Ryan Bowman. But they shouldn't really still be in this division. They flirted with the top three plentifully last season and have lost the play-off final three times in four years. Will they feel deflated or invigorated?
One home defeat last season was an excellent platform, but ultimately seven away losses and a negative away goal difference (and a different pattern of play) cost them dearly. In previous seasons their away form has knocked them. Matt Taylor needs to sort that out. A price pushing just to 4.03/1 to be promoted makes some appeal.
Meanwhile, Mansfield are again in the top four in the betting for both markets, as short as 2.01/1 to be promoted, despite a bottom six finish last season. Clearly layers have taken account of 10 new recruits including Farrend Rawson, a surprise exit from Forest Green, and Jordan Bowery, from MK Dons, who helped fire Crewe out of this division.
I'd love to say that Jamille Matt will be the answer to Forest Green's lack of finishing at key times last season to make them worthy of an interest at 5.04/1. But I need a bit of convincing.
Port Vale could be the surprise from the "pack", having been close to the play-offs last season. Crucially, John Askey needs to keep Tom Pope and Mark Cullen fit. Theo Robinson, on loan at Colchester last season, will want to keep one of them out! A price of 5.59/2 on the Valiants should be worth taking.
Maynard has track record to be golden boot
Mansfield retained Nicky Maynard, who would have surpassed 20 goals, surely, for a second season had it not been curtailed. He had 14, having struck 21 at Bury the year before. The Sportsbook top scorer market puts him at 15.014/1 behind Doyle (will Bolton's system suit him? Swindon made it work and Bradford didn't) at 7.06/1 with Bowman at 21.020/1.
Scott Quigley, having helped Barrow to promotion, is interesting at 26.025/1. Maynard seems a reliable choice and knows League Two better than Henderson at Salford, who is 9.08/1.
Unlucky 14th for Shrimps
While Crawley have lost both Ollie Palmer (AFC Wimbledon) and Bez Lubala (Blackpool) this summer, John Yems had them playing promising football in the spring. It therefore seems unlikely they will be relegated - their price is around 8.515/2 - but we can use them as a yardstick to "look down".
The relegation market leaders are a list of the "usual suspects" plus, a little surprisingly, Oldham favourites at 5.04/1. They have had a steady decline and - as Notts County showed - relegation does not respect reputations. New Latics boss Harry Kewell might have helped steer the Magpies to non-league, but he was doing OK with Crawley before that. The former Champions League winner has worked his limited experience in management to bring in Sido Jombati (Wycombe) and Conor McAleny (Fleetwood) among others.
The big name managers near the bottom include Derek Adams, who took Plymouth up a few years ago and now has the annual task of finding reasons Morecambe can escape the drop. The experienced Nathaniel Knight-Percival and Ben Pringle could prove invaluable.
One suspects Ian Holloway will be poached by a higher level club if he can keep Grimsby moving north in the table rather than south. His exit might then unravel them. Resources remain tight with the Mariners, but Swindon's Danny Rose jumped at the chance to work with the former Palace boss. Bilel Mohsni, Holloway says, is his leader - and a bit of a livewire, for which the manager has "forgiven" him. The mind boggles!
Stevenage finished bottom last year, but survived after Macclesfield's points deductions. Alex Revell swept out 27 players and has brought in a dozen, including promising non-leaguers strikers Inih Effiong (Dover) and Tyrone Marsh (Boreham Wood).
As ever it is a tricky one to predict who could fall from grace, but Morecambe, priced 4.57/2, have avoided 13 as their unlucky number. Their 14th season in the Football League could be their last for now.
Who could join them going down? Playmaker Wes Hoolahan might feel excited at joining Cambridge - at 38 he'll be just glad to get a contract - but the U's could struggle. Again, resources don't seem to be plentiful and a succession of loans and short-term signings will no doubt be made in January to try to get them out of trouble. The season could be a struggle and 6.05/1 looks large on a price that be layable again at much shorter quite soon.