How important is the expected return of suspended Maryland running back Wes Brown for next season?

Jeff Barker: I thought Brown looked like Maryland’s most talented running back in his freshman season of 2012. So, it’s significant.

Running backs coach Andre Powell once told me of Brown: “Most of the time when you pair up big and fast in football, it's a pretty good combination."

Brown fumbled twice in Maryland’s second game of 2012 – a win over Temple – and I remember hoping that coaches would stick with him because he seemed the most natural runner of the tailbacks.

Coaches didn’t give up on Brown, who finished the season with 399 yards (4.2 average). But Brown was suspended for the entire 2013 season following a confrontation with police. His attorney says he’s expected back this spring, although the school’s decision is not yet final.

"Skill position" players are Maryland’s strength going into its first Big Ten season. Among thise players are receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long (both recovering from lower-leg fractures) and, potentially, Brown.

But there is a caveat: Brown will need improvement from Maryland’s offensive line in order to really show what he can do.

The Sun’s Peter Schmuck and I asked coach Randy Edsall about this last month.

“What we have to do is work very hard and continue to build up our offensive and defensive lines to the point where we’re going to be able to go head-to-head with the people we’re going to be playing,” the coach said. “I think we have an advantage because of some of the skills people we have. We might be a little more skillful than some people in the Big Ten. I think there are some tradeoffs.”

How does Maryland’s nonconference performance stack up against the rest of the ACC?

A lot has has been said about the disappointing nonconference performance of Mark Turgeon’s team as it heads back into ACC play Saturday at home against Georgia Tech. Not much, if anything, has been positive.

The good news for the Terps, aside from the fact that Seth Allen’s return has provided a big lift the past two games, is that much of rest of the league had its own struggles in November and December.

There is only one legitimate Top 10 team in the league, unbeaten Syracuse.

Duke is a Jabari Parker sprained ankle away from being pretty average.

North Carolina has the most Top 25 wins (Michigan State, Louisville, Kentucky) but has also lost at home to Belmont and Texas and on the road to Alabama-Birmingham.

The Tar Heels also learned that P.J. Hairston is gone for the season – and likely for good – after being suspended by the NCAA.

The team many expected to make a significant jump this season, Virginia, lost earlier this season to Wisconsin-Green Bay and is coming off a 25-point thumping at Tennessee.

Notre Dame lost at home to Indiana State and North Dakota State, nearly beat Ohio State on a neutral floor and then had its biggest loss of the season – leading scorer Jerian Grant, because of “an academic matter”.

A number of teams have not been challenged, including a one-loss Pittsburgh team that the Terps will play Monday night on the road.

The ACC is currently so unimpressive that ESPN.com still lists Maryland as one of six teams that will receive NCAA tournament bids, albeit as a downward-trending No. 13 seed. (The only other current longshot is Florida State.)