Jeff Emig, Ralph Sheheen preview the 2017 Supercross season

(From left) Ralph Sheheen, Jenny Taft, Ricky Carmichael and Jeff Emig. (Photo: FOX Sports)

The 2017 Monster Energy Supercross season kicks off Saturday, Jan. 7 at 9:30 p.m. ET on FS1, FOX Deportes and FOX Sports GO with live coverage hosted by Jamie Little with Ralph Sheheen and Hall-of-Fame racer Jeff Emig in the booth, Hall-of-Fame racer Ricky Carmichael on the track and Jenny Taft in the pits.

Emig, ranked No. 11 on Racer X’s list of “30 Greatest AMA Motorcrossers” of all time, and Sheheen, the longtime voice of Monster Energy Supercross, preview the 2017 season heading into Saturday’s race at Angel Stadium of Anaheim.

FOX Sports: Can anyone challenge three-time and defending 450SX champion Ryan Dungey this season? Who are his biggest challengers and why?

Emig: “I see Dungey still as the man to beat. Ken Roczen should be impressive again early in the season, but he has to be a contender at every event… that is what it takes to win the title. Cooper Webb is jumping up to the premier class after two 250SX titles, and should be able to win a main event here and there, but I would be surprised if he makes a title run; this just seems like a tough environment for a rookie to dominate. Personally, I am looking at Jason Anderson and Marvin Musquin to have breakout seasons. As for the rest, we will just have to see if anyone catches fire.”

Sheheen: “Yes, Dungey can be beat. It isn’t going to be easy. He has become a championship-winning machine. However, Ken Roczen and Eli Tomac are primed to be his two biggest challengers for the title. There are others capable of winning it, but Ken and Eli are the two that have the experience, the talent, the conditioning and the team to get it done right now.”

FOX Sports:  How does Anaheim I set the tone for a rider/team’s season? You can’t win the season in the first race, but can you lose it with a really poor start?

Emig: “You have to look at it like every race holds the same value, which it does in points. So, obviously you want to avoid a DNF or injury. But, I have witnessed riders like (Ricky) Carmichael and (James) Stewart have a slow start and still win the title. What are better indicators are speed or fitness… if you’re lacking in one of those areas, you’re going to be in for a long and disappointing season.”

Sheheen: “Anaheim is one of the most important races of the season. All of the hype and build-up to the season opener is just immense. Add to it that the race is in the heart of Southern California, which is the epicenter for the industry. The desire for teams, manufacturers and sponsors to grab the headlines with a win at the season-opening round in Anaheim can be incredible pressure on a rider. Pull off the victory and it can be a massive shot of momentum for the rider and team. If it is a bad night, it can have a debilitating impact because people will start wondering immediately ‘what’s wrong with that guy?’ If you don’t bounce back quickly, it can spiral out of control and your season is over before it gets rolling.”

FOX Sports:  Who are the new or improved riders/teams to watch this season and why?

Emig: “I have my eye on Butler Brothers. They just joined with Rocky Mountain ATV/MC as the title sponsor, and will have Davi Millsaps, Blake Baggett and Benny Bloss on the bikes. So, they could post some great finishes in 2017.”

Sheheen: “Two riders who are not necessarily new but that I’m anxious to see how they perform are Ken Roczen and Jason Anderson. Roczen switching to the factory Honda program is very exciting. Honda has been a powerhouse in the sport, but they have been suffering a long drought. Ken looked great on Big Red’s latest machine at the Monster Energy Cup. Could this be a title winning combo for Honda? The other is Anderson. ‘El Hombre’ has been training with and watching Dungey for a couple of years now. He is a very fast rider and obviously he has been doing the right training program. Now, he just has to put it all together. If he does, he could start winning races and could be in the title fight.”

FOX Sports:  If Dungey can collect another championship, where does that put him in terms of the all-time greats in the sport? 

Emig: “Well, only three riders have ever won four or more titles, so Ryan would be in the elite of the elite. If he can do it again, it will be against a deep field, and that in itself would be impressive.”

Sheheen: “Ryan Dungey has already secured himself a spot in the Hall of Fame. He is just padding his stats now and making a case for putting himself on the Mount Rushmore of the sport. He is still young enough, smart enough and healthy enough that he could rewrite some pages in the record books. The defending champion is already in the conversation of all-time greats… final stats will tell us where he slots into the lineup.”

FOX Sports: Is there anyone on the hot seat in 2017? A rider who a lot was expected of, but, to date, has not met those expectations?

Emig: “For sure that rider is Ken Roczen. He just signed long-term contracts with most of his sponsors, and for big money. So, now it’s time to deliver a Monster Energy Supercross title. Barring an injury from something out of his control, I would say that anything less than the title will be a disappointment.”

Sheheen: “It’s kind of crazy. Even though Ken Roczen and Eli Tomac are two of the brightest and fastest stars in the sport, I feel like they are also on the hot seat. The reason I say that is they are the ones who are supposed to push Dungey for the title. Not just challenge, but really push Ryan all the way to the checkers in Vegas. They haven’t done that yet. They have all of the tools to do that this year. If they don’t do it this year, then when?”

A re-air of the FOX Sports 2017 Monster Energy Supercross Preview Show airs Saturday, Jan. 7 at 5:30 p.m. ET on FS1, featuring an unprecedented, unfiltered look into the lives of riders Dungey, Chad Reed, Roczen, Tomac, Musquin, Anderson and Webb as they prepare for the 2017 season.

Click HERE for the full 2017 FOX Sports Monster Energy Supercross schedule.

Follow the FOX Sports Monster Energy Supercross broadcast team on Twitter at: @RalphSheheen, @Emig47, @RickyCarmichael, @JennyTaft, @JamieLittleTV, @Producer_Pete and Supercross at @SupercrossLive. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #SXonFOX!