KweséESPN's complete NPFL Season Preview
Ahead of the 2017-18 Nigeria Professional Football League kickoff on Sunday January 14, KweséESPN profiles the key contenders and introduces the division's new faces.
Sai Masu Gida appear fired up for the new season if their eye-catching pre-season form is anything to go by.
They won both the Ahlan Cup and Gold Cup, and their non-involvement in CAF club competitions could be an advantage in comparison to their fiercest challengers, all of whom will have to juggle domestic and continental obligations.
Coached by Ibrahim Musa, Pillars have signed quality players such as Stephen Eze, Nzube Anaezemba and Ifeanyi Nweke.
Added to their smart recruitments, the management have increased the team's bonus for away wins this season, a major incentive for success.
Speaking exclusively to KweséESPN, Anaezemba has revealed the team's confidence that they can enjoy a standout year domestically.
"I strongly believe we will win the league title, based on our excellent pre-season form and the calibre of players we have in the team," the new boy began. "I look forward to a second league title with Kano Pillars come end of the season."
Aiteo Cup winners Akwa United could emerge as title contenders if they start the season strongly.
The club management have done well to retain the services of experienced coach Abdul Maikaba, creating continuity and stability.
Equally, they have signed seasoned league campaigners such as Kelly Kester and Etim Matthew, also bringing in exciting youngsters Adeshina Gata and Victor Mbaoma from relegated duo, ABS FC and Remo Stars.
Consider also the financial strength of the Akwa Ibom State Government, who double as club sponsors, and we tip the Promise Keepers as possible title contenders.
The reigning champions could be gunning for a second successive title after a fine campaign last term.
The Tin City Boys have undergone some major surgical changes during the offseason but retained the spine of the team from last year, including coach Kennedy Boboye, Dele Ajiboye, Daniel Itodo, Peter Eneji and Emeka Umeh.
The champions have recruited smartly, adding the likes of Okiemute Odah, Terna Suswam, Charles Henlon and King Osanga as they prepare for a CAF Champions League challenge.
The club sponsors handsomely rewarded the team for bringing glory to the state last season and that financial support could continue this season, driving them to further glory.
The New Boys
The Naze Millionaires make a return to the top division after topping the Southern Conference in the Nigeria National League last term.
The Owerri-based team, who are five-time Nigerian champions, did well to bounce back after suffering relegation for the first time in their history in 2016.
If the club management can secure adequate funding for recruitment from their sponsors, the Imo State Government, and can ensure steady payment of wages, Heartland will be confident of beating the drop.
Go Round FC
Rivers State will be the second state with two representatives in the NPFL this season - after Abia State - following the promotion of Go Round FC, who join Rivers United at the top table.
The privately sponsored team - the NPFL's third after MFM FC and FC Ifeanyi Ubah -- are based in Omoku and reached the top flight after finishing second in the NNL Southern Conference last term.
Failure to adequately prepare for life amongst the big boys could see them go down the same road as ABS FC and Remo Stars, two privately sponsored teams who were relegated last season.
Nicknamed the Harmony Boys, the Ilorin-based team won the NNL Northern Conference with a few rounds of matches to spare last term and are coached by former Golden Eaglets and Flying Eagles coach John Obuh.
They have signed the likes of Chima Uluocha and Ismaila Gata from Abia Warriors and Enyimba respectively to provide the required top flight experience, while Michael Ohanu, top scorer with 22 goals last season, has promised to continue scoring in the NPFL.
Yobe Desert Stars
To say Stars are enduring tough preparations for the new season is an understatement, and they could be heading straight for relegation if they continue to struggle financially in the new season.
Based in the troubled north eastern town of Damaturu in Yobe State, the team coached by Mohammed Babaganaru, pulled out of the Nigeria National League Super 4 due to the unavailability of funds and a failure to attract younger players.
The prognosis certainly looks bleak for this ageing side.