Brian Mansfield, USA TODAY
Thursday is country music's biggest night, a time when the industry anoints its favored sons and daughters and names the music it loves most. USA TODAY's Nashville correspondent Brian Mansfield picks the night's likely winners - and the acts that ought to be.
Entertainer of the year
Should/will win: Jason Aldean. Yes, Taylor Swift is the bigger act, but Aldean keeps more of his eggs in the country basket. Plus, as he has shown in recent weeks, he can now sell out stadiums, too.
Should win: Carrie Underwood. The show's co-host is country radio's most-played female act for 2012 (though barely), and she has won this award three times for a reason.
Will win: Miranda Lambert. She's making great records, and she comes across as one of the guys. That can go a long way at voting time.
Should/will win: Expect a new winner here - meaning Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan or Eric Church. Aldean's most likely, either foreshadowing his entertainer win or as consolation should Taylor Swift take the top honor.
Love and Theft
Should win: Hunter Hayes. Anyone who doesn't know that this 21-year-old singer/songwriter/picker is a superstar in the making just isn't paying attention.
Will win: Brantley Gilbert. He's a little farther along in his career than Hayes, having written big hits for Jason Aldean and cut a couple of No. 1 songs of his own.
Eli Young Band
Little Big Town
The Band Perry
Zac Brown Band
Should/will win: Lady Antebellum. The trio has won the past three years and remain a sales and airplay juggernaut. Country's guard may be changing, but don't expect that here.
Big & Rich
Love and Theft
The Civil Wars
Should win: The Civil Wars. Radio won't play them, but their sparse, acoustic sound has deeper country roots than the other acts. They also outsold most of them.
Will win: Thompson Square. They haven't duplicated the success of 2010's Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not? but they're still the mainstream nominee with the most momentum.
Jason Aldean, Dirt Road Anthem
Blake Shelton, God Gave Me You
Dierks Bentley, Home
Little Big Town, Pontoon
Eric Church, Springsteen
Should win: Pontoon. Little Big Town, much loved within the industry community, created a completely fresh take on the country-lifestyle summer song.
Will win: Dirt Road Anthem. Despite its hip-hop overtones, or perhaps because of them, this became a genre-reshaping smash with 3.3 million downloads.
Eric Church, Chief
Miranda Lambert, Four the Record
Dierks Bentley, Home
Lady Antebellum, Own the Night
Luke Bryan, tailgates & tanlines
Should win: Miranda Lambert. She won in 2010 for Revolution, so expect voters to spread the love this year. Creatively, though, she's still the one to beat.
Will win: Eric Church. With producer Jay Joyce, Church made country so tough it was almost metallic. The industry ate it up, giving him his first No. 1 hits.
Even If It Breaks Your Heart, Eli Young Band (Writers: Will Hoge/Eric Paslay)
God Gave Me You, Blake Shelton (Dave Barnes)
Home, Dierks Bentley (Dan Wilson/Brett Beavers/Dierks Bentley)
Over You, Miranda Lambert (Miranda Lambert/Blake Shelton)
Springsteen, Eric Church (Eric Church/Ryan Tyndell/Jeff Hyde)
Should win: Even If It Breaks Your Heart. In an exceptional field, this "keep on dreaming" anthem rings true and resonates deeply.
Will win: Home. Dierks Bentley's conciliatory message offers a new paradigm for country patriotism, representing the better nature of the music.
Dixie Highway, Alan Jackson featuring Zac Brown Band
Feel Like a Rock Star, Kenny Chesney (duet with Tim McGraw)
Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, Willie Nelson with Snoop Dogg, Kris Kristofferson and Jamey Johnson
Safe & Sound, Taylor Swift featuring the Civil Wars
Stuck on You, Lionel Richie (with Darius Rucker)
Should win: Safe & Sound. This haunting million-seller displayed Taylor Swift's breadth, boosted the Civil Wars' career and launched The Hunger Games soundtrack.
Will win: Stuck on You. That's right, the guys who fronted The Commodores and Hootie & the Blowfish will beat Snoop Dogg. For a country award.
Come Over, Kenny Chesney
Over You, Miranda Lambert
Pontoon, Little Big Town
Red Solo Cup, Toby Keith
Springsteen, Eric Church
Should/will win: Eric Church. If Church wins just one award, it'll be this one, for a clip about young love and suburban garage bands.
Sam Bush, mandolin
Paul Franklin, pedal steel guitar
Dann Huff, guitar
Brent Mason, guitar
Mac McAnally, guitar
Should win: Paul Franklin. It's time for someone other than a guitar player to win this award, and pedal-steel player Franklin has defined country's sound like few others.
Will win: Brent Mason. If a guitar player must win, let it go to a guy who's still playing big parts on major records.