Thirty two teams across the country begin the race for promotion to the Glo Premier League from the Nigeria National League which is the second structure of domestic football in the country.
Due to financial constraint the structure adopted is a departure from the two groups of 16 teams played last season as participating teams have been spread into four groups.
At the end of the contest the leading teams in the four groups will be promoted to the Premier League.
It’s a winner-takes-all contest so expect a fierce race for glory.
Action begins on Friday, as former top dog, Bendel Insurance, embark on a road trip to Atiba, which is one of the new teams in the league.
Interestingly, the NNL is home to Insurance and Mighty Jets, two of the oldest teams in Nigeria’s league history.
Matches will also be played on Saturdays and Sundays.
Ahead of the kick-off, supersport.com examines the new teams, contenders and outsiders for the race.
Promoted from Nationwide League
After excelling at the amateur cadre, six teams: Atiba, Bussdor United, Ikorodu United, J. Atete, Court of Appeal and Yobe Desert Stars, have joined the NNL.
For Yobe Desert Stars and Bussdor, it’s a return to the NNL following their relegation in 2013.
Back in 2002, Yobe Desert Stars reached the defunct Coca-Cola FACup finals, but lost to defunct Julius Berger.
That remains Yobe’s best achievement till date as the club has since become a yo-yo.
Another team returning to the NNL is Court of Appeal. However, the club will have to continue life without their youngster, Jimoh Oni, who is flourishing at Premier League side, Heartland.
Oni made a goal scoring debut for Heartland at Shooting Stars and has added a second goal.
The trio of Atiba FC, J. Atete and Ikorodu United FC are set for their debut.
Unlike Atiba and J. Atete, Ikorodu United acquired the franchise of Kaduna Bees.
Julius Atete, proprietor of J. Atete is confident his side will continue the journey to the Promised Land.
“Our target is to play in the Premier League next year”, Atete said to supersport.com.
Peharps, Atete’s 3-1 annihilation of Premier League log leaders, Sunshine Stars, in the Federation Cup, is an indication of their fire-power.
Unless the unexpected happens, the contest will be a three-horse race with relegated Kaduna United, Plateau United and Kogi United, as contenders.
Relegated Kaduna United will bank on players who didn’t leave for greener pastures to boost their return.
No fewer than eight players have remained with the club. Top on the list is Linus Adams, who made a return from Premier League side, FC Taraba.
Adams alongside Ali Adamu and Siman Yusuf, who played in the 2011 Caf Confederations Cup, are expected to form the bedrock of the team.
Plateau have been struggling since losing their top flight status a second time in 2011.
And Patrick Mancha has to start all over again as key players have moved to enjoy a taste of top flight football at FC Taraba and El-Kanemi Warriors.
The duo of Chinedu Ohanachom and Longinus Obadiah are with FC Taraba, while John Daddy is enjoting life at El-Kanemi Warriors.
Utility player, Emmanuel Odafe, is set to leave the club for greener pastures.
Kaduna United: Kaduna
Adamawa United: Yola
Plateau United: Jos
Yobe Desert Stars: Damaturu
Jigawa Golden Stars: Dutse
Supreme Court: Abuja
Kogi United: Lokoja
Austin Eguavoen’s Gombe United have the edge here, but expect a tough challenge from Niger Tornadoes and Ranchers Bees.
The presence of players who played in the top flight is an indication of the seriousness attached to this assignment for relegated Gombe.
Ahmed Yusuf, Segun Fatunwase, Austin Ekpoma and club legend, Ibrahim Kwairanga are battle ready to achieve results.
Also in the team is experienced forward, Okiki Musampa, Omoh Ojabu and Ndubuisi Ekwueribe.
Former Giwa manager, Abdullahi Biffo, is aware of the expectations from his employers at Niger Tornadoes.
Biffo is also lucky to have inherited players who were with the team last term.
Kayode Agboola has shown he has the ability to deliver considering his top flight experience at Wikki Tourists.
Ranchers continue to lick their wounds after coming so close, but failed to maximize it when it mattered most.
Gombe United: Gombe
Mighty Jets: Jos
Court of Appeal: Abuja
Ranchers Bees: Kaduna
Sokoto United: Sokoto
Niger Tornadoes: Minna
Relegated Crown and Remo Stars will be the leading teams in the group when hostilities begin.
Former Sunshine Stars forward, Harrison Egbune, has returned to the club that brought him to stardom and will lead the quest for goals.
Experienced goalkeepers, Miachael Uweru and Adeniyi Adejare, who missed the chance to join top flight campaigners, Dolphins, will boost the squad.
However, don’t underrate Maurice Cooreman’s Ikorodu United considering the experience of the Belgian.
Abia Comets: Umuahia
Remo Stars: Sagamu
Ikorodu United: Ikorodu
Ekiti United: Ado-Ekiti
Go Round: Omoku
After missing promotion narrowly last term, the duo of Akwa Starlets and First Bank will be the leading teams in this group.
The duo lost the battle on the last day of the league losing to Shooting Stars and Go Round, respectively.
First Bank are without top scorer, Sikiru Adewale, who is making early impact at Premier League side, Warri Wolves.
Also at Wolves is Oghenevo Uzeozi, but The Bankers have attracted former Lobi Stars central defender, Suleiman Ochimana.
MFM has the potential to bounce back after losing ground in the latter stage of the promotion race, last term.
Skipper Atu Irumekhai may have headed for Abia Warriors, but his exit won’t affect the quality of the team.
Gateway United and Bendel Insurance appear comfortable in the lower division.
Former Insurance captain, Rolan Ewere, remains in charge and has the experience duo of Daddy Bazuaye and Charles Omokaro to inspire the youngsters.
Supporters of Insurance continue to pray for the club’s revival.
Can relegated Nembe City make an immediate return?
Nembe is used to selling players to the big sides and will have to depend on amateurs to return to the big league.
Former junior international, John Aranka, is back as head coach of the club.
Go Round continue to relish their kit-deal with Owu Sportswear and head coach, Ngozi Elechi, remains confident of a good season.
J. Atete and Atiba are debutants in the NNL.
Nembe City: Yenagoa
Akwa Starlets: Uyo
Atiba United: Oyo
Bendel Insurance: Benin
First Bank: Lagos
J. Atete: Warri
Gateway United: Abeokuta