All eyes will be on a Graeme Smith-led Surrey as they and Derbyshire bid for an instant return to the top flight. Here's our county-by-county guide to the season ahead with the help of Sky Sports' David Fulton...
Captain: Wayne Madsen
Head Coach: Graeme Welch
Ins: Stephen Moore (Lancashire), Scott Elstone
Outs: Dan Redfern, Alasdair Evans (both released)
Overseas: Shivnarine Chanderpaul
Derbyshire's first season back in the top-flight ended in disappointment and fans will be hoping a coaching reshuffle will result in an instant return.
Karl Krikken's departure as head coach came as somewhat of a surprise and a coaching team of former players - fronted by Graeme Welch - will now look to revive fortunes at the East Midlands county.
Financially, things are looking up. Often looked at as one of the minnows of the county game, Derbyshire returned a profit for a seventh year in eight in 2013.
On the pitch, things didn't quite go to plan. Preserving their Division One status always looked a tough ask and, after losing seven and drawing three of their first 10 fixtures, they were effectively down by August.
While Shivnarine Chanderpaul didn't hit the heights expected in 2013 - he still averaged a shade under 40 - he will return to Derby this summer and could fill his boots in the second tier.
Transfer activity has been at a premium in the off season but the signing of Stephen Moore looks a potential gem in all formats, the right-hander arrives with a point to prove after a disappointing spell at Lancashire.
Key player: Shivnarine Chanderpaul Derbyshire have pulled off quite a coup by luring the eighth highest Test run scorer of all-time back to the County Ground this summer. In amongst an inexperienced batting line-up, Derbyshire will be hoping Shiv can hold it together and put Division Two bowling attacks to the sword.
David says: "I think they'll find it tough to go straight back up even though Graeme Welch, their new coach, is highly-rated. They put up a good fight in the battle to avoid relegation last year but ultimately it wasn't to be and I don't see them scoring enough runs this time, especially if Wayne Madsen doesn't fire consistently. They've got some good young players and I think they'll be there or thereabouts but I don't quite see them earning promotion."
One to watch: Tom Knight "Tom's a left-arm spinner who has got a good pedigree having played for England U19s. There's all to play for if you're a young spinner at the moment and it will certainly do his cause no harm to put in some decent performances."
Captain: James Foster
Head Coach: Paul Grayson
Ins: Monty Panesar (Essex)
Outs: Maurice Chambers (Northamptonshire)
Sky Sports exclusives:
Cook: I can't discuss KP
The 2013 season did not go to plan for Essex. They finished outside the promotion places in the County Championship again, their cause not helped by being bowled out for 20 - a new low for the county - by eventual champions Lancashire.
With no joy in the limited-overs competitions either, although they did make it to Finals Day in Twenty20 cricket, the pressure is surely on director of cricket Paul Grayson ahead of the new campaign.
Hopes should be high considering the squad at Chelmsford, particularly now Monty Panesar has signed permanently. The left-arm spinner fills a glaring need in the squad, while he will hope a fresh start will help rekindle his international career. Essex, though, won't mind if England go with someone else as the long-term replacement for the now-retired Graeme Swann.
The pace bowling looks strong - Graham Napier enjoyed a stellar season, and just not just with the ball either, making plenty of runs down the order to help bail out the miss-firing batsmen, and the evergreen David Masters continues to torture top orders up and down the country.
Reece Topley wasn't far behind the senior seam duo in terms of number of wickets taken, but fellow left-armer Tymal Mills needs to turn his obvious potential into consistent performances. Essex also boast plenty of all-rounders in their squad, so there is no over-reliance on just a couple of players.
Ravi Bopara should be available for decent stretches of the summer and his runs could be crucial - no batsman last year topped four-day skipper James Foster's 883 first-class runs. This year, Ryan ten Doeschate will take over leadership duties in the limited-overs competitions.
Key player: Ben Foakes: It would be easy to pick one of the more established names at Essex such as Bopara or Masters, but Foakes is someone who the county needs to have a good year. He has been tipped as a future international due to his abilities behind the stumps, so will want to do better than last year's haul of 639 runs at an average of 35.50.
David says: "They've been a real force in one-day cricket but this could be the year they go up in the Championship. New recruit Monty Panesar did OK in the game against the MCC and you know what you're going to get from him, but I just wonder if England are looking past him - perhaps to Scott Borthwick or Simon Kerrigan - as they start this new era."
One to watch: Reece Topley "There's been a lot of talk about Tymal Mills because of his pace but Topley is a very fine, tall young bowler who swings it and is quick enough. He won't blow people away as Mills might but he adds the sort of variation to the attack that England could probably do with and has won Under 19 honours."
Captain: Mark Wallace
Head coach: Toby Radford
Outs: Simon Jones (released)
Overseas: Jacques Rudolph
Sky Sports exclusives:
Morris targets Glamorgan success
Much has changed at the SWALEC Stadium since the end of 2013, with a new coach in Toby Radford, a new director of cricket - former ECB chief Hugh Morris - and a new overseas player in experienced South African batsman Jacques Rudolph.
But after last season's Division Two effort, changes were needed. Glamorgan finished eighth, with only hopeless Leicestershire behind them, despite getting nearly 2,500 runs from James Allenby and Murray Goodwin.
Thankfully both return this season and, along with Rudolph who will be arriving later in April, runs at the top of the order should not be a problem. If they get bigger contributions from 'keeper-captain Mark Wallace and a couple of their less-experienced players, they should be competitive.
Michael Hogan took more than 100 wickets last season but he is in desperate need of some support, especially with seamer Mike Reed out for the first two months with a knee injury - his 2013 performances were enough to earn an England Performance Squad call.
Allenby and Hogan impressed in the Yorkshire Bank 40 as well, with Glamorgan finishing second in their group and making it to the final, only for their batting to flop against the pace of Stuart Broad and Ajmal Shahzad.
The Twenty20 captaincy goes back to Allenby this season, and he should be their most valuable player across all formats after a brilliant 2013 which ended with him signing a new four-year deal.
Key Player: Jim Allenby. Tough to ignore Michael Hogan, but Allenby's 2013 season was up there with the best you will see. Eight fifties and a couple of centuries as he tallied 1,116 runs in a struggling four-day team and he took 26 wickets to go with them. The pattern was exactly the same in 40 and 20-over cricket as well, clearly making him one of the country's leading all-rounders.
David says: "It's all change off the pitch with Hugh Morris coming in as chief executive and Toby Radford taking over as coach but when you look at the squad on paper you can't see them being a massive force and may have to settle for mid-table. They had some success in one-day cricket last summer and I suspect that will be their route to a decent season. Jim Allenby and Graham Wagg remain good cricketers and Dean Cosker is still a canny one-day performer."
One to watch: Chris Cooke "At 27 he's not a spring chicken but he's a guy who can really put bat to ball and be quite belligerent. They've got a lot of senior players and a few young guns with it all to prove and Cooke is at the right age to be right at the heart of things."
Captain: Michael Klinger
Head coach: John Bracewell
Ins: Tom Smith (Middlesex), Will Tavare
Outs: Richard Coughtrie, Paul Muchall, Ed Young (all released)
Overseas: Michael Klinger
Gloucestershire are banking on the same personnel as last season to show some improvement in 2014, with little having changed at Bristol since their 2013 disappointments.
Struggles in the four-day game were mixed in with some awful limited-overs results, most notably in the Twenty20 format, where they were among the worst teams in the domestic game.
Scoring runs should not be a big problem with Michael Klinger returning as overseas player looking to add to the 1,105 he compiled in Division Two last season. Alex Gidman and Hamish Marshall also finished in the top 15 in the averages.
Add in the power of Chris Dent, who was their fourth batsman to pass 1,000 runs, and 'keeper Gareth Roderick and they have a line-up that can cope with any team in Division Two.
Tom Smith comes over from Middlesex as their only permanent senior addition, and he has plenty to prove after an up-and-down loan spell with the county last season.
But their deficiencies with the ball have not been dealt with and it could be a long season if Will Gidman is unable to reproduce his 2013 heroics, when he took 50 wickets, and teenager Craig Miles suffers any kind of sophomore slump.
Key Player: Will Gidman Last season saw a series of impressive seam-bowling performances last season from Alex's brother, taking 50 wickets in 13 games, including a career-best 6/15 and 10 wickets in a match for the first time. A few more runs would have been handy but you can't have it all and his batting remains decent for a bowling all-rounder.
David says: "The ground has been redeveloped but the squad is little-changed. They haven't had much of a budget which I know has been frustrating for John Bracewell but it has given some younger players a chance. I don't think they'll go up - or returning to the days when they were winning one-day trophies - but I can see them becoming increasingly competitive over the next two years."
One to watch: Liam Norwell "A six foot six inch fast bowler who has got a bit about him, he's impressed me the couple of times I've seen him. Like David Payne, the left-armer who has been around for a bit now and done well in patches, he needs to put his head above the parapet and have a consistent season. Watch out for the Gidman brothers, Alex and Will, too."
Captain: Jimmy Adams
Head coach: Dale Benkenstein
Ins: Matt Coles (Kent), Joe Gatting (Sussex), Will Smith (Durham), Ruel Brathwaite (Durham), Lewis McManus, Tom Barber
Outs: Dimitri Mascarenhas (ret), David Griffiths (Kent), Hamza Riazzudin (ret), Adam Rouse, Jack Sheppard, Michael Roberts, Jake George (all released)
Overseas: Kyle Abbott
After winning the two limited-overs trophies in 2012, last season was a distinct disappointment for Hampshire. There were some fine performances in one-day cricket and two semi-final appearances. But the County Championship campaign was a damp squib - they were never in promotion contention.
The main issue was wicket-taking. James Tomlinson was the only bowler who can look back at 2013 with any pride. But he should get much more support this season. Kyle Abbott, the South Africa Test fast bowler, and Matt Coles - who looked the real deal after he joined on loan from Kent at the tail-end of last summer - arrive.
On the batting front, Hampshire need one or two players to step up. Sean Ervine, by his standards, had a poor 2013, scoring less than 500 runs and taking just 17 wickets in the Championship. He is usually the rock of the middle order, but he went missing last year.
Two Durham old boys will also be looking to make an impression on the south coast as new first-team coach Dale Benkenstein and former title-winning captain Will Smith reunite.
Joe Gatting - an unfulfilled batting talent - is another new signing, given a fresh start after falling out of favour at Sussex. The key man with the bat, though, is new vice-captain James Vince - this could be a massive season for a young man with genuine potential to play for England.
Promotion to Division One is a realistic target, but in one-day cricket Hampshire will - as usual - be serious challengers, particularly with the brilliant Australia all-rounder Glenn Maxwell returning for the T20 Blast.
Key player: Matt Coles The powerfully-built Coles is deceptively quick and brings some real aggression to the team. He can score useful lower-order runs too. If he maintains a level head, and his discipline (he was once sent home from an England Lions tour) then he can be a big star for many years at the Ageas Bowl.
David says: "They've struggled to win games at the Ageas Bowl in the last couple of years - their wickets appear to have got quite flat - and that's a problem for them because when they first played there they were always result pitches. They've strengthened their bowling attack and I quite like the signings they've made, particularly Matt Coles from Kent - I think that's a real coup and Kent will be kicking themselves to have lost him. They've got a chance of going up and one-day trophies aren't beyond them."
One to watch: James Vince "He's a class act and a young guy who could put his hand up in this new era for England where batting spots are up for grabs. James looks like an England player in all forms of the game to me; now he has to fulfil that potential."
Captain: Rob Key
Head Coach: Jimmy Adams
Ins: Mitch Claydon (Durham), David Griffiths (Hampshire), Matt Hunn, Charlie Hartley
Outs: Matt Coles (Hampshire), Michael Powell (retired), Charlie Shreck (Leicestershire), Benedict Kemp (released)
Overseas: Doug Bollinger
Kent need their much-vaunted crop of young stars to take the workload off their established veterans if they are to bounce back from a disappointing 2013 campaign.
Rob Key, Brendan Nash and the evergreen Darren Stevens all passed 1,000 runs for the season last year, but the likes of vice-captain Sam Northeast, Daniel Bell-Drummond and Sam Billings were not consistent enough to back-up the senior brigade.
Kent will be looking for these three in particular to provide a solid foundation for the coming summer and beyond, while it will be interesting to see if Fabian Cowdrey - grandson of Sir Colin - can cement a regular place and do his illustrious family name proud.
The bowling lacked penetration last year, but the signing of Australian seamer Doug Bollinger should be a bonus in all formats of the game, while Calum Haggett, Adam Ball, David Griffiths and former Durham quicks Mark Davies and Mitchell Claydon give Kent's attack plenty of depth.
Ivan Thomas has drawn comparisons with Chris Tremlett and could be one to watch as he looks to atone for an injury-hit 2013, and Charlie Hartley could be another to break through after a winter of Grade cricket in Sydney while spinner Adam Riley will be keen to step out from the shadow of England star James Tredwell.
Perhaps the most important news for Kent over the winter involved off-field matters, with former county stalwart Matt Walker joining Mark Ealham and Min Patel on Jimmy Adams' coaching staff, while Stevens was cleared of corruption charges in Bangladesh.
Key player:Darren Stevens Like a fine wine, Stevens is just getting better, and better. He topped the run charts with 1,300 runs - including an unbeaten 205 on the final day of the season - and also claimed 32 wickets with his medium-pacers. The 37-year-old will look for more of the same now an anxious year is behind him.
David says: "Darren Stevens is a massive player for them so it was good news in every sense when he was cleared of involvement in corruption in last year's Bangladesh Premier League and is available for them. Doug Bollinger is a decent signing and will create rough for James Tredwell, but how much is he going to play? If it turns out to be little, Adam Riley can step in who is very decent. If Kent can score runs and the likes of Sam Northeast and Daniel Bell-Drummond fire, they'll be there or thereabouts. They've probably got more of a chance going up in the Championship than winning a one-day trophy."
One to watch: Adam Ball "The England U19 captain has always been a bit of a bowling all-rounder but I think he's a better batsman than bowler. I reckon he can turn himself into a real hard-hitting number six who is also capable of producing useful overs. He's got a great attitude and is a real competitor, so I'm backing him to emerge this season."
Captain: Ramnaresh Sarwan
Head Coach:Ben Smith
Ins: Charlie Shreck (Kent)
Outs: Matthew Hoggard, Claude Henderson (both retired)
Overseas: Ramnaresh Sarwan
Sky Sports exclusives:
High hopes at Grace Road
The last season for the Foxes was an "annus horribilis", a Latin term HRH The Queen once used in one of her Christmas speeches. Other words that could describe the campaign are - shocking, dreadful and expensive, as they announced five-figure losses for the financial year to deepen the gloom at Grace Road.
The future off the field now looks a little brighter with the local council lifting a restrictive covenant on their home, opening up the possibilities of redevelopment to aid their income.
There is dramatic work needed on the field, too. Leicestershire have a new, well newish, captain in West Indies batsman Ramnaresh Sarwan following the retirement of former England seamer Matthew Hoggard. Spinner Claude Henderson, another experienced old head, has also hung up his boots.
The only way is up in the County Championship for the Foxes - they finished rock bottom last time out in Division Two and even a solitary four-day triumph this summer would be an improvement. Eight losses and eight draws meant they finished 70 points back of nearest rivals Glamorgan.
Their 23 batting bonus points was the lowest in the country, despite a stellar effort from Ned Eckersley that saw him manage 1,307 runs. Much was hoped of Shiv Thakor, but the young all-rounder was hampered by a finger injury that has since been operated on. He will not now be back in action until the middle of the campaign, his last under his current contract with the county.
Charlie Shreck's signing should boost a bowling attack that saw only three players manage more than 20 first-class wickets in '13, and none of that trio did so at an average of under 35.
Key player: Ramnaresh Sarwan The Guyanese right-hander needs to lead from the front with the bat, and also must use all his captaincy experience to get his squad to punch above their weight. The county needs to start showing some green shoots of recovery.
David says: "The only way is up but I think they will struggle again this season. I look at the signing of Charlie Shreck, who is a lovely bloke, but I just wonder if it is a forward-thinking move. Let's wait and see if Phil Whitticase and Ben Smith have any aces up their sleeve because they need some young players to emerge."
One to watch: Shiv Thakor "Shiv could miss a large chunk of the season because he's having an operation on a finger but I still think he's the stand-out young player at the club. He had a bit of a blip last year with finger injury problems having really announced himself the year before. I've only heard good things about the lad. If he can get himself on the park and playing, he won't be far off the Lions."
Captain: Graeme Smith
Head Coach: Graham Ford
Outs: Jon Lewis (Sussex), Zander de Bruyn (released)
Overseas: Graeme Smith
Surrey will be hoping for a fresh start this year after a miserable 2013 that saw them relegated in the LV= County Championship. They couldn't even console themselves with a bit of one-day glory, losing to Northamptonshire at Finals Day in the Twenty20 competition.
In a bid to turn their four-day form around they have placed in charge a legendary name and a South African with experience of English domestic cricket. Alec Stewart remains on the staff having taken on a role midway through last season following the departure of Chris Adams, while former Kent boss Graham Ford has arrived as their new head coach.
An ankle injury saw captain Graeme Smith return home early last season, but now he will be fully focused on the job of leading Surrey after announcing his international retirement. South Africa's loss is certainly Surrey's gain.
They will also benefit from Kevin Pietersen's very public departure from the England set-up. He has signed a deal to play in the NatWest T20 Blast, yet could we see him in first-class action?
Whoever does bat in the top order should find runs a little easier to come by in the second tier (no batsman managed to get into four figures last time out), while the seam trio of Chris Tremlett, Jade Dernbach and Stuart Meaker will all be hoping a re-laid Oval square will offer a little more pace and bounce.
And while experienced old pros Vikram Solanki and Gareth Barry are still around, Ford will be focused on helping some of the young talent, including teenage batsman Dominic Sibley, who became the youngest player to hit a double century in Championship cricket last September, develop further.
Key man: Graeme Smith The fact he is free to play county cricket for the entire summer is a massive boost for his English employers. As well as runs at the top of the order, his leadership skills should help Surrey push for an immediate return to the top tier.
David says: "Looking at the talent in their squad, I expect Surrey to go straight back up. That said they looked too good to go down last season! Graeme Smith's availability, fitness and motivation is key for them. Can he pick himself up after all of those emotional Test match farewells, though, to bat the required length of time on a cold April morning to give Surrey good starts when he's done so much in the game? Surrey will be a force in all forms and if Smith does fire, they're my favourites to go up alongside Hampshire or Essex."
One to watch: Dominic Sibley "He finished last season on a high after becoming the youngest double centurion in County Championship history. He was out of sorts when I watched him play for England U19s during the World Cup but he has the ability to score big in the Championship and he'll learn quickly given the opportunity to bat with the likes of Smith and Solanki. He is still doing his studies so won't be available for the whole season."
Captain: Daryl Mitchell
Head coach: Steve Rhodes
Ins: Saeed Ajmal
Outs: Alan Richardson (ret), Richard Jones (Warwickshire), David Lucas (ret) Michael Johnson, Aneesh Kapil, Neil Pinner, Steve Leach (all released)
Overseas: Saeed Ajmal (Pakistan)
Rhodes: Someone will step in
Worcestershire fans are about to find out what life is like without Alan Richardson, and potentially Moeen Ali.
The prolific fast bowler Richardson has retired to take up a coaching role at Warwickshire and Moeen looks destined to spend most of the summer with England. The duo took nearly 100 Championship wickets between them last season. That is a lot of wickets to find. Then add in the fact that Moeen scored 500 more runs than the next best in the team, skipper Daryl Mitchell.
Whichever way you look at it, it is hard to see grounds for optimism in any format - both men are simply irreplaceable. And to make matters worse, the highly promising seamer Richard Jones has also left for Edgbaston.
The only ray of sunshine is the return of Pakistan spinner Saeed Ajmal, who will supply wickets and endless enthusiasm when he is available.
The slippery Jack Shantry is rather under-estimated, whilst Gareth Andrew will provide steadiness with the ball, and some fireworks with the bat. Graeme Cessford, the ex-RAF bowler, has genuine pace and showed real promise last season. Worcestershire badly need him to kick on.
It is hard to see anything but a battle with Leicestershire to avoid finishing bottom of the table in the Championship, and there is no case to suggest they will be anything but also-rans in one-day matches - where they will be known as the Rapids. It could be a long summer at New Road.
Key man: Daryl Mitchell The skipper needs a mighty season with the bat to help the likes of Matt Pardoe and Jack Leach develop. His right-arm medium pace is awkward and he may be needed more frequently than usual to stem the flow of runs.
David says: "I fear for Worcester a little having lost so much talent in recent years. Moeen Ali could be playing quite a lot for England and Alan Richardson has retired, so although I've got a lot of time for Steve Rhodes and for Worcester as a club, I can easily see them propping up the Championship."
One to watch: Brett D'Oliveira "It would be a great story if he could burst on the scene. He's a leg-spinner with a wrong 'un who has good one-day potential. But bowling well and nailing down a place in the Championship team is very different to bowling in Twenty20 when the field is out. But anyone who can bowl decent leg-breaks and bat and field has got to be worth a watch."