PREDICTED LEAGUE POSITION: NINTH
LAST SEASON: Promoted as Championship winners
NOTABLE INS: Josh Black (Queen's Park), Joe Chalmers (Inverness Caledonian Thistle), Lee Erwin (unattached), Ross Laidlaw (Hibernian), Jack Ruddy (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Blair Spittal (Partick Thistle), Nathan Baxter (Chelsea, loan), Simon Power (Norwich City, loan)
NOTABLE OUTS: Jamie Lindsay (Rotherham United, £300k), Russell Dingwall (Elgin City), Scott Fox (Partick Thistle), Greg Morrison (Brora Rangers), Callum Semple (Queen of the South), Declan McManus (Falkirk, loan), Ross Munro (Raith Rovers, loan), Andy Boyle (Preston North End, end of loan), Ross Maciver
LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (Departed players crossed out):
Ross County deserved to win the Scottish Championship last season. They were the best team in the division, and the most consistent.
Is that the same as saying they were terrific? It's hard to say. They knew how to win matches. If you'd asked one of their supporters about their result, they'd have told you they won with a bit to spare. If you'd then asked about the performance, they'd probably have given a shrug.
But that winning habit is a good one to have and often puts newly promoted teams in good stead initially, especially if the players who enjoyed such success have remained. And so is the case in Dingwall where it could be argued that of all the players who left in the summer only Scott Fox and Jamie Lindsay will be missed.
And even then Fox was not all that outstanding a goalkeeper - at least, not as outstanding as he thought he was when he claimed in 2015 that he was joining County to improve his international prospects. But he certainly has a better pedigree than Ross Laidlaw, one of life's substitute keepers, who has been signed from Hibs. Young Chelsea loanee Nathan Baxter was expected to be first choice but he needs a shoulder operation and won't play until November so the club has brought in the inexperienced Jack Ruddy from Wolves to compete with Laidlaw. Not ideal.
Lindsay was an outstanding midfielder though, bringing a rare combination of energy and ability to proceedings. Ex-Inverness player Joe Chalmers will replace Lindsay's running and is better on the ball than he's given credit for, and he's got his mojo back after being converted from left-back following a nightmare spell at Motherwell. Whether he can cope at Premiership level remains to be seen though.
Ross Draper should do fine, and if County will either pair him with Chalmers, or if they go with three in the middle of the park, use the duo to do the ballwinning and running for playmaker Iain Vigurs. Vigurs is great at dictating play but his defensive weaknesses were frequently exploited the last time he was in the top flight. It will be a surprise if we see much of 36 year old Don Cowie who is surely heading for a player-coach role with heavy emphasis on the 'coach', while Lewis Spence has disappeared from the picture somewhat.
Out wide, they look well set. Josh Mullin was a real stand out in the Championship with plenty of goals and assists from the right flank. On the opposite side is Michael Gardyne who despite being 33 shows no signs of taking a step backwards...yet. As insurance though County have signed young Irishman Simon Power on loan from Norwich City and first impressions are that his exceptional pace could cause havoc. Another new boy, Blair Spittal, will compete with Mullin after joining from Partick Thistle, but he's not an upgrade. You may remember Davis Keillor-Dunn, who showed some flashes a couple of years ago? He's been frozen out amid rumours of attitude problems.
In fact, the Spittal signing somewhat sums up County's business so far - a new player who doesn't look like an improvement on what the club had last season. Expect further additions before the end of August though - as shown with Declan McManus the club are not concerned about moving on players who signed new deals only a few months earlier.
Until then the defence and attack will be the same as last year. Billy Mckay should initally lead the front line after scoring 20 goals last year. Once Lee Erwin is fit, he may partner or supplant the Ulsterman; after a year in Iran and then on the sidelines, it's hard to know what state the former Motherwell talent is in. Alternatively, Brian Graham or Ross Stewart can each provide an aerial threat. Graham has more experience but Stewart is more mobile.
The backline was good enough for the second tier but there are question marks over all of them this season. Captain Marcus Fraser was excellent last year but has previously seemed too lightweight to be a good Premiership centre back and not good enough going forward to be a Premiership right-back. However the hope is that he's improved enough to become the latter. Keith Watson also comes off a good campaign but was previously only good enough to be a backup at St. Johnstone. However converting him to central defence may be the making of him.
Watson's likely companion in the middle is Liam Fontaine, now 33 and coming off a number of serious injuries. He's now slower than a week in Dingwall and it remains to be seen if his vast experience compensates for that. The backups are the green Tom Grivosti, who they have high hopes for, and Callum Morris, who they probably don't. And neither Sean Kelly nor Kenny Van Der Weg are particularly palatable options at left-back, though if forced to plump for one you'd choose the Dutchman, who loves a tackle. The management team seem to prefer Kelly though for his superior play in possession.
And what of the duo in the dugout, a sight we rarely see in football? The bottom line is that Stuart Kettlewell and Steven Ferguson have done what was expected of them so far. This season will be the acid test of what their capabilities are.
After all, the momentum County carry from last season could carry them really quite far into the new season but at some point the lack of overall quality will probably catch up with them. That said, they will still fancy that they're strong enough to avoid being dragged into the mix at the bottom of the table.
And if they do have a rocky start and end up in a relegation fight? Expect owner Roy MacGregor to bust out that cheque book in January. He treasures this club, and saw their relegation in 2018 as a failure on his part. He'll be damned if it happens again on his watch. And as long as he doesn't appoint Owen Coyle, it surely won't.
THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1998 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Nathan Baxter, Ross Laidlaw, Jack Ruddy
Defenders: Liam Fontaine, Marcus Fraser, Tom Grivosti, Sean Kelly, Tom Kelly, Callum Morris, Kenny Van Der Weg, Keith Watson
Midfielders: Dan Armstrong, Josh Black, Joe Chalmers, Don Cowie, Ross Draper, Mark Gallagher, Michael Gardyne, Davis Keillor-Dunn, Josh Mullin, Jack Murray, Harry Paton, Simon Power, Lewis Spence, Blair Spittal, Iain Vigurs
Forwards: Lee Erwin, Brian Graham, Billy Mckay, Ross Stewart, James Wallace
THE BEST XI?
Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.