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Michigan Football: The Best Moments of 2015

With the 2015 season now in the books, it's time to look back at the moments that shaped a great season.

Evan Habeeb/Getty Images

Oh, what a year it has been. There was plenty of Harbaugh, a lot of highlights, and ten more victories. It was the year of Jim Hackett, the year of Jake from State Farm, the year when everything returned to normal in Ann Arbor, and only one of a few years of Jourdan and Jabrill playing together. It was a great year.

So, in honor of the holidays (even though they're over), we wanted to celebrate the football team with the fourteen best moments of the 2015 season. The highs, the lows, the endless work we didn't see and the prime-time games on national TV, every little part contributed to what was undeniably a successful 2015.

And now that the bowl game is over, we can turn the program over to a new chapter, to new challenges and more adversity, but also to some more accomplishments and continued pride. So sip on some eggnog, gnaw on a turkey bone, and rest in the most comfortable chair around. Enjoy the year that was.

*And yes, we're including a couple calendar days in 2014 and 2016 as part of the '15 season.

#14. Jameis Winston and Bryce Petty train in Ann Arbor

We should have known that this would be an off-season like no other, and the marathon of Harbaugh reached another gear when top quarterbacks came to train for the combine, then walked away praising Michigan's facilities for any Sports Center viewer to hear.

"This is bar none the best one that I've seen," Petty said about Michigan's 104,000-square foot Al Glick Field House. "We've got great ones in Waco, you know I love what we had at Baylor, and so it's cool to kind of see other places, and this is definitely by far one of the best I've seen."

"These guys don't know how blessed they are," confirmed Winston, who added, "the type of coach that [Harbaugh] is, I wish I could have played for him. ... It was an honor to meet him."

#13. Michigan lands Kareem Walker

Recruiting is valuable to the long-term success of a program or conference, but at the same time you don't want a commitment to be one of the best parts of your football season. Recruiting, after all, is about potential - tomorrow. But Jim Harbaugh's first year recruiting at Michigan deserved some sort of recognition, and flipping a New Jersey boy from the Ohio State Buckeyes was the highest point in a long, marathon process.

But Walker was just one of many great players, the cherry on a ten-scoop sundae. From getting thirteen recruits in the month of June, to pledges from Zach Gentry and Brandon Peters in January and April, to closing out the 2015 class with Tyrone Wheatley, every single commitment was its own highlight. The best part is, 2016 will bring in even more talent.

#12. Wilton Speight is right on the money

The finish in Minneapolis would not have been possible without this throw, and it came at a moment when confidence was wavering among Michigan fans. This one touchdown turned a lot of people into fans of Michigan's back-up quarterback.

#11. Chesson burns Hargreaves ... twice

This is the first of our selections that wasn't technically in 2015, but was still a part of the '15 season. Chesson ran all over the vaunted Florida defense, including a 24-yard gain when Hargreaves wasn't guarding him. All told, Michigan's #86 had 118 yards in this game, giving him 1,085 total yards, 12 touchdowns, terrific blocking, and even a couple tackles in an MVP-caliber season. And producing against one of the nation's best corners just solidified how far the former track star out of Missouri has come.

First, Jehu Chesson was the benefactor of a slight pump fake by Rudock, giving him a continent of free space for the touchdown catch. Then in the third, Chesson used his speed to straight-up beat Hargreaves on a deep post route.

The Orlando Sentinel had this to say afterward.

On Friday, Hargraves was torched for a touchdown on a double move by Michigan's Jehu Chesson with 8:49 to go in the first half and did not return until the second series of the second half. McElwain said it was all part of the normal rotation at cornerback, though it looked more like a benching.

Whatever the case, it did not work. Hargreaves returned and immediately gave up a 45-yard catch to Chesson on the UF 10-yard line.

Former Gators Shannon Snell, a Sporting News in All-America 2003, took to Twitter as Hargreaves' day - and possibly his draft status - deteriorated.

Snell wrote: "Hmm, that kid is dropping VH3 into the 2nd round."

Hargreaves was victimized for at least one, if not two scores during the SEC title game. Once figured to be a top-10 pick in the NFL draft, Hargreaves ended his Gators' career looking more overrated than elite.

This is where I point out that Jehu, a three-star in 2012, is 6'3", 207 pounds. Vernon Hargreaves, a former five-star and an All-American, is 5'11", 199.

#10. Jehu Chesson gives immediate momentum in Week 6

Rather than embed the play of Jehu's game-opening kickoff return against Northwestern, let's take a few steps back and enjoy a .gif of it from the nosebleeds:

Credit to MGoBlog on that one.

#9. Jabrill runs for a touchdown

Jim Harbaugh is, it's not too bold to say, a little difficult. He can be pretty grumpy, a challenging interview in press conferences, and sometimes he submarines his team out of press contact. But when it comes to Jabrill Peppers, Jim can't help but soften up.

"I thought that play was trapped behind the line of scrimmage," Jim said about this touchdown. "The move he made, and the way he weaved himself through there ... I knew he was good. But he's really good. He's really good. I [didn't think] there was another rung to go on the ladder. He found another rung to go even higher."

Unfortunately for Jim, Jabrill has admitted he'd rather play on defense, where the lights are a little dimmer and the hustle is more important. But if there are rungs to find there, you can bet Jabrill will keep climbing.

#8. Jourdan Lewis as Houdini

#7. Jake Butt makes a catch in triple coverage

Nobody knew what this team was going to become. The three shutouts, the goal-line stands, multiple blowouts against ranked teams. And against Utah, the Wolverines were down 17-3 near the end of the third. Things seemed bleak. Then Jake Butt dusted off the old projector and turned on the highlight reel.

A catch that was eerily similar to one he made against Ohio State, this brought life back into the fan base and kept Michigan close during the fourth quarter. The Utes would go on to win, but Michigan fought all the way until the end. That was a sign that 2015 was about to be very, very different.

#6. Jake Rudock throws touchdown pass #6

A program record. A win, in double-overtime. A wide-open Amara Darboh in the end zone. A comfortable, even subdued quarterback playing against one of the Big Ten's worst defenses.

Jake Rudock threw for 440 yards in this one, the third-best performance all time to Devin Gardner's 503 against Indiana and 451 against Ohio State. His 6 passing touchdowns were, of course, a record. Good luck topping that one, Brandon Peters.

#5. Amara Darboh posterizes a BYU defender

His name is Micah Hannemann, by the way - as famous and anonymous as the 7'0" centers trying to stop Tracy McGrady or LeBron James. Normally posterizing is reserved for basketball dunks, for feats of athleticism so incredible you need to slow it all down to a standstill to admire it.

But that was until Amara Darboh did something so gnarly, so off the chain, that you know someone has a poster of it somewhere. Something they can look at and feel inspired.

Oh, and it was his first week as an American. Not a bad way to start.

#4. Jake Rudock transfers to Michigan

We didn't know it then, and in some ways we still don't. I'm talking, of course, about Jake Rudock saving our season.

Without Rudock, Michigan's season would have gone very differently. Perhaps Shane Morris would have been able to slide into the starting role and find success. Or Speight could have, or one of the freshmen. But even if one of the young guys took over the position, who would have filled in as Dad? The father figure who didn't flinch?

"It feels like he's so much older," said Erik Magnuson. "He transferred here, and he already graduated, medical school and all of that. He acts a lot older than his age. ... He's not somebody you're going to see after the game Saturday night at a bar messing around or anything like that. That's not who he is."

#3. The gritty finish of the Minnesota game

In a press conference that will be remembered for ages, Jerry Kill explained why he was stepping down. He talked about not sleeping, taking his life a day at a time, and being true to what really matters. In the aftermath, Minnesota's fan base came together in support of the team and the program. The Gophers' starting quarterback, whose role would have been filled by any other player, ran up and down the field before the Michigan game waving a flag that said, "Jerrysota."

When the ball was kicked off, two teams still bleeding from their respective wounds went to war with each other - trying to prove something to themselves as well as to the men on the other side.

"Welcome to football," Jim Harbaugh said two weeks before this game, as Michigan stood on the other side of a bitter result. "We're going to put steel in our spine [after this]." And that's just what the Wolverines did against the next opponent to come along, Minnesota.

The Gophers had even more to fight for, even more passion, and as a result there were few Big Ten games all season long that were as evenly fought as this one. But while Minnesota proved it could compete against the best, Michigan's players proved something, as well. They showed to themselves they can close the deal.

"To be able to win a tough one, it's a great learning experience because it reinforces everything you tell them about never giving up, fighting to the end," Harbaugh said after this one. "That's the thing I'm most excited about. Our team has learned a very important lesson."

#2. De'Veon runs all over BYU

Was BYU the best game of the year? Only Florida comes close. Michigan shut out the Cougars for 60 minutes, held the team to 105 total yards, and kept the ball for almost 40 minutes. This was the game of two top plays, but also a 41-yard grab by Jake Butt, Amara getting wide-open in the end zone, and a pair of rushing touchdowns by Rudock. Smith rushed for 125 yards on 16 carries, thanks to this and another 31-yard rumble. Even Derek Jeter was on hand. The game was like a party from start to finish, and this run was the nightcap.

"I thought I was down for a second," said De'Veon. "Once I got to the second level, I was not going to let No. 15 tackle me."

#1. Harbaugh Press Conference

"I feel like I'm standing on this foundation that is so rock solid. I feel like I'm standing on the shoulders of tall, tall men, and I can't thank you enough. I can't thank the alumni enough."

Harbaugh continued: "The students, the faculty - for the enthusiasm that you've all shown, to my family and I. Top to bottom Michigan is about excellence, is about greatness, and you have my pledge that I will carry forward the excellence of the University of Michigan football program. Thank you very much."

While Harbaugh spoke at his introductory press conference on December 30th, signs dotted the campus welcoming him home. A hardware store used its advertising space to ask for a win over Ohio State. And Michigan fans, part of this huge family that now could come together in agreement, all sat and watched. It was a time of reflection, of dreaming, of homecoming - not just for Harbaugh, but for us, as well.

"Across every discipline on campus, the University of Michigan stands for excellence," added Harbaugh. "I feel privileged to take a leadership position at one of the finest universities in the world. I truly believe it is time to ask what we can do for our great university, and how I can be a great teammate. I commit to do my part to see to it the Michigan football program upholds its tradition of excellence."

It was official - Harbaugh was home.

Honorable mentions: Derek Jeter and Michigan join forces for The Players' Tribune, Michigan marches down the field against Florida with seven runs, John O'Korn transfers to Michigan, Desmond Howard's #21 retired, Tom Brady throws for all four New England touchdowns in Super Bowl XLIX, Michigan's ticket wait list, Exposure U and Aerial Assault QB Camps, Ty Isaac's 76-yard scamper

Photo credits: Rob Foldy/Getty, Gregory Shamus/Getty, Brian Spurlock/USA Today, Jesse Johnson/USA Today, Rick Osentoski/USA Today, Rick Osentoski/USA Today