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Before the start of the college football season, Bruce Feldman thought the Big Ten West would be improved.

The one team the Fox announcer wasn’t sure about? Illinois.

“Looking at what they did in the first month of the season, it was hard to get a read on them at that point,” Feldman said. “It is so hard to turn the corner when a program has been down for awhile. To see them make some progress and build some confidence, especially given some of the injuries they’ve had, it’s been impressive.”

Feldman will see Lovie Smith’s guys in person Monday. He is working as sideline reporter on Fox’s coverage of Illinois-Cal in the Redbox Bowl. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. (C-U time) in Santa Clara, Calif.

“I think there are a lot of positives for them to take the next step,” Feldman said. “From talking to Lovie, it sounds he feels like this team was really a year away from really being something. Fortunately, for him, they hit it this year, and showed a lot of resilience to have those two big comebacks (against Wisconsin and Michigan State).”

The team now knows how to win.

“That’s something you can build on,” Feldman said. “It’s been a long time since Illinois has been really anything in football. At least a long time relative to these kids’ lives.”

Feldman is eager to see how the Illini bounce back after their loss to Northwestern.

“This is basically a home game for Cal,” Feldman said. “This is a really good defensive team. Evan Weaver is a tackling machine and Justin Wilcox does a really good job. They’ve got their work cut out for them to beat the Bears.”

On to my weekend recommendations:

TODAY

“Duran Duran: There’s Something You Should Know,” 8 p.m., Showtime

In the hour special, band members open up about their four decades of music.

SATURDAY

Peach Bowl, LSU vs. Oklahoma, 3 p.m., ESPN

The other playoff semifinal (Ohio State-Clemson) is getting all the hype. But LSU enters as the favorite to win the national title. Could be a barn burner.

SUNDAY

“Flirty Dancing,” 7 p.m., FOX

The reality series is based on a British show. Contestants are taught a dance separately, then asked to perform it together on a blind date. Jenna Dewan hosts.

Bob Asmussen is a college football reporter and columnist for The News-Gazette. His email is asmussen@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@BobAsmussen).

College Football Reporter/Columnist

Bob Asmussen is a college football reporter and columnist for The News-Gazette. His email is asmussen@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@BobAsmussen).