Warwickshire will be bidding to retain their title as the top flight welcomes Derbyshire and Yorkshire for the 2013 summer. Here's our county-by-county guide to the season ahead with the help of former England international Dominic Cork...
Captain: Wayne Madsen
Head coach: Karl Krikken
Overseas: Shivnarine Chanderpaul
Ins: Richard Johnson (Warwickshire), Billy Godleman (Essex), Outs: Garry Park (released), Matt Lineker (released), Hamza Siddique (released)
Derbyshire head into the 2013 campaign on the crest of a wave after clinching the LV= County Championship Division Two title on the final day of last season.
The pre-season doom-mongers will be predicting a swift return to the second tier for Karl Krikken's side, who have bolstered their batting with one of the coups of the off-season - Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
The West Indies run-machine will be integral to Derbyshire's hopes of avoiding the drop and will look to fill the void left by Usman Khawaja and Martin Guptill - the only two players to average over 40 with the bat last term.
Last season's success was built around a strong team-spirit and with no less than 13 players signing new contracts in the winter, the nucleus of the side remains the same.
South African Wayne Madsen will captain the club and welcomes new recruits Richard Johnson and Billy Godleman into the home changing room.
Undoubtedly punching above their weight, the Falcons will relish the prospect of mixing it with the big boys in first-class cricket, while a maiden appearance at Finals Day still eludes them.
Key player: Shivnarine Chanderpaul - Derbyshire have pulled off quite a coup by luring the eighth highest Test run scorer of all-time to the County Ground this summer. In amongst an inexperienced batting line-up, Derbyshire will be hoping Shiv can hold it together and keep a number of potent Division One bowling attacks at bay.
Corky says...The batting is one thing they'll have to get right very early on now they are in Division One where it's so important to post 400 in the first innings to keep yourself in the game. Read his full preview
Captain: Paul Collingwood
Head coach: Geoff Cook
Outs: Michael Di Venuto (retired), Liam Plunkett (Yorkshire), Ian Blackwell (retired)
Durham flirted with a return to Division Two for the first time since 2005 before a local hero saved them from the dreaded drop.
Paul Collingwood's appointment as captain culminated with a run of five wins from their final six games and safely steered the North East county away from relegation trouble.
But they start the season in the drop zone on minus two points after they were handed a points penalty for exceeding the ECB's salary cap last term.
The North East club will be relying on youth this season with head coach Geoff Cook admitting that financial restrictions have stymied his hopes of an overseas acquisition.
The home grown formula brought back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009, however survival will surely be the aim this term with the likes of Michael Di Venuto and Ian Blackwell no longer at the club.
The return to form and fitness for Graham Onions, who took 69 Championship wickets last term - was a major boost for the county and they will be hoping he returns a similar wicket tally this summer.
Key player: Ben Stokes - The powerful all-rounder incurred the wrath of the England Lions coaching staff in the winter and will need to let his cricket do the talking when the domestic season resumes. A talent with bat and ball and key to Durham's hopes of challenging in all forms.
Corky says... Durham have dominated county cricket for a while but with the likes of Michael Di Venuto and Ian Blackwell retiring they are now are a team in transition. Read his full preview
Captain: Chris Rogers (Championship), Neil Dexter (limited-overs cricket)
Head coach: Richard Scott
Overseas: Chris Rogers (Australia)
Ins: James Harris (Glamorgan)
Outs: Andrew Strauss, Scott Newman, Anthony Ireland (Leicestershire), Robbie Williams (Leicestershire), Tom Scollay, Steven Crook (Northamptonshire)
Having been promoted as champions in 2011, last summer was all about Middlesex retaining their top-flight status. They did so in impressive fashion, finishing in third place thanks to five wins.
With or without the captaincy Chris Rogers thrived, the Australian scoring 1,108 first-class runs. He will continue in charge for the LV= County Championship fixtures in 2013, with club captain Neil Dexter then taking over in limited-overs cricket.
Joe Denly made some good contributions since arriving from Kent and having slipped further down the England pecking order in Test cricket, Eoin Morgan will look to plunder plenty of runs in domestic action once the IPL has finished.
Hopes of the left-hander raising his first-class batting average of 34.52 may be boosted by the return of Mark Ramprakash to Lord's as Middlesex's new batting coach - if only they could roll back the years and have 'Ramps' back in their middle order.
The bowling resources available to whoever is skipper have been bolstered by the arrival of seamer James Harris from Glamorgan, an addition that should cover for the fact that Steve Finn will rarely be seen in Middlesex clothing over the next six months.
Toby Roland-Jones and Tim Murtagh both took over 60 first-class wickets and with Gareth Berg as a fourth seam option; they would not be too disappointed if it was another damp summer. What they will be disappointed with is their recent performances in Twenty20 cricket - it will be an area that managing director Angus Fraser will be targeting for improvement.
Key player: Chris Rogers - Whoever he plays for, Rogers plunders runs. Well, except for Australia that is. The fact he has managed just one Test cap seems amazing considering his first-class average is a tad under 50. Middlesex will again need him to score heavily at the top of the order.
Corky says... Angus Fraser, their director of cricket, has got things well and truly stable and they've got a good bunch of young cricketers. Read his full preview
Captain: Chris Read
Head coach: Mike Newell
Overseas player: Ed Cowan (Australia, start of season until 21 June); David Hussey (Australia, from June, including Twenty20 until August)
Ins: Ajmal Shahzad (Yorkshire)
Outs: Karl Turner, Scott Elstone, Neil Edwards (all released)
Nottinghamshire should launch a powerful challenge on all fronts in 2013. Ed Cowan, the Australia Test opener, adds serious ballast to the top of the order before the ever-reliable David Hussey takes over in August.
The rest of the batting under-achieved last year and Notts fans are entitled to expect more from Alex Hales, Michael Lumb, James Taylor and Samit Patel - England men all. All four averaged below 40 last season, and Chris Read - with a whopping 975 runs - had to come to the rescue all too often.
Andre Adams continues to be one of the most dangerous bowlers on the county circuit - his 54 wickets came at just 19.17, and there would have been far more but for injury. But he needs more help. Ben Phillips took 13 matches to take 30 wickets, and the hugely promising Harry Gurney - signed amid much fanfare from Leicestershire - just 21 in 10.
The capture of Ajmal Shahzad from Yorkshire may help. Precociously talented he may be, but he needs to walk-the-walk now if he wants to reignite his England claims.
In Graeme Swann's absence, they are too reliant on Patel as a spin option. Graeme White played just five times last year and he will hope for a busier summer.
Key player: Andre Adams - He has carried the Nottinghamshire attack for a few years now. The New Zealander is pivotal to their hopes of landing the title. Without him, whilst runs should not be a problem, Notts will struggle to bowl sides out twice.
Corky says... Nottinghamshire will push in all forms of the game. They've made some excellent signings in recent years - the likes of Michael Lumb and James Taylor - and this season they've added Ajmal Shahzad from Yorkshire. Read his full preview
Captain: Marcus Trescothick
Head coach: Andy Hurry
Overseas: Alviro Petersen (South Africa), Abdur Rehman (Pakistan)
Outs: Steve Snell
It is hard to see how Somerset can make the final leap from perennial nearly-men to county champions.
They were runners-up last year and Nick Compton - by far their most prolific batsman in 2012 - is likely to miss the whole summer on England duty. South Africa's Alviro Petersen arrives to fill the void, on the back of averaging just 21 for Essex last season.
Marcus Trescothick, James Hildreth, Arul Suppiah, Craig Kieswetter and Jos Buttler will of course keep the runs flowing. But Compton was the glue that kept the whole thing together.
The bowling was the problem last season, Peter Trego carrying the attack for most of the summer and the estimable all-rounder was the only man to take 50 wickets.
Somerset are pinning their hopes on the Overton twins, Jamie and Craig, making major breakthroughs this season. Alfonso Thomas arrives after the IPL but much, much more is needed from Steve Kirby (just 24 wickets from nine matches) and Gemaal Hussain (12 from five) who need to stay fit and start running through sides.
If and when the sun finally makes an appearance, young Ireland spinner George Dockrell will be increasingly important, 34 wickets a decent return in his first full season.
Key player: Peter Trego - ever-present last season, he continues to press his claims for an England call-up. Somerset's leading wicket-taker also scored 600 runs and he is arguably the best true all-rounder in the country. Heaven help the Somerset attack if he were to get injured.Corky says... Abdur Rehman's return later in the season will help but unless they get off to a great start they may find it difficult to get into a position to win the Championship. Read his full preview
Captain: Graeme Smith
Head coach: Chris Adams
Overseas: Graeme Smith (South Africa), Ricky Ponting (Australia)
Ins: Graeme Smith, Ricky Ponting, Vikram Solanki (Worcestershire), Gary Keedy (Lancashire)
Outs: Rory Hamilton-Brown (Sussex), Mark Ramprakash (retired), Matthew Spriegel (Northamptonshire), Chris Jordan (Sussex), Tom Lancefield (released)
After the trauma of 2012 with Tom Maynard's tragic death, Surrey go into the 2013 season as genuine title contenders.
The signings of Graeme Smith as captain, Ricky Ponting, and veteran pros Vikram Solanki and Gary Keedy send out a clear message - the future can wait, Surrey want the title and they want it now.
Ponting's signing as cover for Smith for June and July could be a masterstroke. Freed from the burden of playing in a disintegrating Australia side, he had one of his most productive domestic seasons for his beloved Tasmania.
But Smith could make all the difference. Captain of the world's undisputed number one Test team, Smith will provide the hard-nosed ruthlessness that Surrey have lacked in recent years. Alongside the two superstars, the most important man in the squad could be the physio. On paper Surrey's fast bowling options are unmatched by any other county.
Chris Tremlett, Jade Dernbach, Stuart Meaker, Jon Lewis and the forgotten man, Tim Linley (who took 73 wickets in 2011) provide stellar options. The problem is fitness. Tremlett played just once, Dernbach seven times last year in the Championship.
Gareth Batty and the canny old pro Keedy are excellent slow bowling options so if Surrey can get their first choice attack out on the field more often than not, Surrey can indeed with the Championship for the first time since 2002.
Key player: Graeme Smith - the best captain in world cricket, Surrey could hardly have got a better man. He will bring attitude, spirit, guts, determination and runs. If anyone can deliver the Championship, it is Smith.
Corky says... If seamers Chris Tremlett and Stuart Meaker can stay fit and bowl to their full capabilities, I'm sure they will do well. They certainly have the pedigree. Read his full preview
Captain: Ed Joyce
Head coach: Mark Robinson
Overseas: Steve Magoffin (Australia), Scott Styris (T20
Ins: Rory Hamilton-Brown (Surrey), Chris Jordan (Surrey)
Outs: Murray Goodwin (Glamorgan), Andy Hodd (Yorkshire), Kirk Wernars (year-long break), Naveed Arif, Will Adkin (both released)
Sussex finished a creditable fourth last season and whilst they do not appear to have the depth to challenge for the title, they should not be looking over their shoulders either.
The return of Rory Hamilton-Brown from Surrey is a big plus, and he will take over Murray Goodwin's place in the batting line-up.
After years of magnificent service Goodwin has moved on to Glamorgan but his final season was one to forget - 377 runs at 16, and Hamilton-Brown will certainly trump that.
The batting is a good mix of youth (Joe Gatting, Luke Wells - who increasingly looks the real deal - and Hamilton-Brown) and experience (Chris Nash, Mike Yardy and new captain Ed Joyce).
The first choice bowling attack is strong too with Steve Magoffin its leader, the Australian missing just one Championship match last season and finishing with 57 wickets.
Alongside him James Anyon, Monty Panesar and the increasingly effective off-spin of Nash make up a potent attack, though the back-up bowling is thin - Amjad Khan, Luke Wright and Ben Hatchet took just 37 wickets between them last year and they need to improve on that tally.
Key player: Steve Magoffin - What a signing he was. He hardly pulled up trees at Surrey or Worcestershire but Sussex saw something they liked and he delivered in spades last year. Robust, quick, reliable. What more could you want?
Corky says... I think they'll be a solid half-way team but I'm not sure they'll go on and win it. Read his full preview
Captain: Jim Troughton
Head coach: Dougie Brown
Overseas: Jeethan Patel
Ins: Oliver Hannon-Dalby (Yorkshire), Freddie Coleman (Scotland)
Outs: Richard Johnson (Derbyshire), Neil Carter, Andy Miller (both released).
The champions will be there or thereabouts again this season. There is nothing flash about this team - just tried and tested county pros, producing the goods week in, week out.
They are just horribly difficult to beat - just once did they taste defeat last season - and despite the departure of coach Ashley Giles, his replacement Dougie Brown is Warwickshire through-and-through and provides the continuity.
Their bowlers performed magnificently last season: Chris Wright, Keith Barker and the vastly under-rated Kiwi spinner Jeetan Patel all took over 50 wickets. Their star man, Chris Woakes would surely have joined them but only played in eight matches after a delayed start to the season.
Jim Troughton can also call on the ever-reliable Rikki Clarke, Darren Maddy and - when fit - Boyd Rankin. A captain's dream then. The promising Oliver Hannon-Dalby arrives from Yorkshire, their sole winter signing, provides a further pace option.
Where can it go wrong for the Bears? The batting can be suspect. Clarke and Woakes had to dig them out of too many holes last season.
They do bat down the order, but the top six was over-reliant on Varun Chopra, and he needs more help from Will Porterfield, Troughton, Ian Westwood, Maddy and Tim Ambrose. If they raise their game and the bowlers stay fit, it is hard to build a case against them.
Key man: Rikki Clarke - the ultimate county pro got his reward for a fine 2012 by going on tour with the Lions over the winter. The 31-year-old is the rock of the middle order, and offers control with the ball. Every county would love to have him.
Corky says... They'll surely be up there again this year but, like Man City in the Premier League, I just wonder if they'll find it too tough to defend their crown. Read his full preview
Captain: Andrew Gale
Head coach: Jason Gillespie
Ins: Andrew Hodd (Sussex), Jack Brooks (Northamptonshire), Liam Plunkett (Durham)
Outs: Gerard Brophy, Oliver Hannon-Dalby (Warwickshire), Anthony McGrath (retired), Ajmal Shahzad (Nottinghamshire)
Just like in his prime with the ball in hand during his Test career, Jason Gillespie delivered for Yorkshire last year. Perhaps a surprise appointment, the Australian steered the Tykes back to Division One of the LV= County Championship at the first attempt.
Although they missed out on the title by the virtue of games won to Derbyshire, it mattered not really in the grand scheme of things. Yorkshire went unbeaten in their summer in Division Two, though no side drew more games than their total of 11.
Now the aim for Gillespie and captain Andrew Gale is making sure the White Rose county retain their top-flight status, as well as continuing to improve their limited-overs performances.
They will have to do so without Anthony McGrath, the veteran all-rounder announcing his retirement despite a productive 2012. As yet they also have no overseas player; a batsman is surely a priority considering the likely losses of England duo Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow.
Andrew Hodd's signing means Bairstow's absences are covered behind the stumps, while Yorkshire have recruited two fast bowlers to add some firepower to their seam attack; Jack Brooks and Liam Plunkett will hope to prosper under Gillespie's guidance at Headingley.
If Tim Bresnan and Ryan Sidebottom can remain fit, and Moin Ashraf continues to develop, Yorkshire have a plethora of pace options to choose from, not forgetting last year's leading wicket-taker in Steve Patterson. It means the departures of Ajmal Shahzad and Oliver Hannon-Dalby should hardly be noticed.
Key player: Gary Ballance - one of the few successes on the England Lions tour to Australia, Balance is a batsman who served notice of his talent back in his teens at Derbyshire. Since then he has been working hard through the ranks at Yorkshire and now it seems he's ready to make an impact in all forms of the game.
Corky says... Yorkshire are an outside bet for the title. They are well led by Jason Gillespie, a guy who knows about winning from his time with Australia, and they have a lot of exciting youngsters. Read his full preview
Who will win Division One in the LV= County Championship?