GREENSBORO, N.C. - When Cole Stoudt opens his wallet, he seldom forgets to at least glance at the card with a single number and four words on it.
118. One-hundred and 18. The number of coaches and players - scholarship and walk-on combined - in the Clemson football program.
The mandate on these cards, distributed to the Tigers by head coach Dabo Swinney, is written there plainly: "Do the right thing."
Every action Stoudt or any other player makes can create a headline in the papers and, subsequently, a headache for university officials. And then, Swinney's most poignant message, a black eye on the program's reputation.
"It always reminds you that no matter where you go or what you're doing, you're always representing Clemson," Stoudt said. "They want us to be role models for Clemson."
No school is perfect. Clemson is no exception. Stoudt won his starting job under bittersweet circumstances, the default leader of the quarterback room when Chad Kelly sniped at coaches during the spring game just two days after an incident at an off-campus apartment - the final straws leading to Kelly's dismissal.
Four Tigers are suspended for the Georgia opener (Corey Crawford, Garry Peters, Shaq Anthony and David Beasley) for separate violations of team rules. Wide receiver Germone Hopper was held out of spring practices for lack of focus; wide receiver Martavis Bryant was academically ineligible for the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl; wide receiver Sammy Watkins even misstepped with an offseason drug arrest, costing him the first two games of 2012.
"He always emphasizes if we do wrong, that we'll be punished in some way," Stoudt said. "But there really hasn't been anybody on the team who's caused (much) of that."
Clemson's list of transgressions, indeed, is far shorter than others. And according to a Wall Street Journal study leading into the 2013 college football season, Tigers fans have every reason to be proud of their program both on and off the field.
The "Grid of Shame" graphic measures two metrics against each other on an axis: first, simply, on-field victories, with a more complicated factor, mixing components of academics, NCAA violations, revenues subsidized by student fees, player arrests and a subjective rating the paper termed "an overall ick factor."
Checking on the upper-hand right corner of the grid - combining wins with a positive reputation - Clemson ranks near the top along with Stanford and Wisconsin.
TCU, Northwestern, Michigan State, UCLA and Baylor aren't far behind.
It's a chart Swinney's aware, and proud, of entering his sixth full season as head coach.
"We've got good people and good support, and great chemistry," Swinney said. "Good people attract good people."
The Wall Street Journal included a separate comment regarding Clemson: "The Tigers are going to class and staying out of the hoosegow - and could win the Atlantic Coast Conference."
Obviously, the Tigers didn't; Florida State did, en route to a national championship. But Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston was embroiled in controversy the past year, from a messy sexual assault investigation to a shoplifting arrest and other headlines created from the words of the Seminoles' free-spirited then-freshman.
That all occurred after the Journal's latest study, which listed FSU far to the right (wins) but halfway between the midline and bottom part of the grid (reputation).
"As a leader, you have to accept a role and you have to live up to it. That's one thing I learned from this past season, and I know I'm in the spotlight," Winston said. "I know I've got these guys depending on me, I've got coach (Jimbo) Fisher depending on me. Most importantly, I've got my family depending on me."
South Carolina was also far to the right in measuring wins, and placed smack in the middle of the reputation gauge. The Gamecocks took scholarship penalties after the 2011 season in light of NCAA violations for playing ineligible student-athletes and staying at a Columbia hotel for discounted rates.
Other powerhouses who found themselves higher on wins than reputation a year ago included Alabama, Oregon, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Southern Cal.
Schools like Army, Temple, Air Force, Purdue and Boston College were in the "admirable" category but lacking victories.
"You're only as good as the people you surround yourself with," Swinney said. "I tell young people all the time, a great lesson everybody should learn: surround yourself with good folks. Choose a good mate. Choose good friends. You've got to have good people, and we certainly have that here."
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