There was a moment when reality should’ve sunk in.

That moment was in the middle of the fourth quarter when Brandon Peters tried to make something happen with the Wolverines trailing late. Michigan had already blown a 16-point lead after what looked like a runaway Outback Bowl victory.

Still, the Wolverines were driving in the South Carolina red zone with an opportunity to reclaim the lead. On third and goal, Peters faced heavy pressure that forced him to roll out to his left. Peters was barely able to get a pass off, but it would’ve been better if he didn’t. It turned into a JaMarcus King interception, and ultimately, a South Carolina victory.

After that sequence, reality should’ve sunk in that Michigan needs Shea Patterson to be eligible in 2018. Badly.

If you’re still in denial of that, clearly you didn’t watch the second half of the Outback Bowl. Well, maybe you didn’t watch any of the showdown in Tampa.

Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Peters did some good things for Michigan as a redshirt freshman. He was the best quarterback on the roster this season, which isn’t saying much.

But make no mistake, Peters will not be the best quarterback on the roster in 2018. There were too many instances in which the Wolverines needed Patterson on Monday.

Jim Harbaugh didn’t exactly pull out all the stops with the offensive game plan. It didn’t matter that he had a month to prepare, or that the stakes of the game weren’t as high as his previous two bowls at Michigan.

What did matter was that he was working with Peters, which meant the game plan had to be conservative. Peters still can’t make all the throws, he doesn’t go through his progressions quickly and he can’t scramble. You know who does all three of those things well? Patterson. Peters simply couldn’t make plays when the play broke down. That’s where Patterson is at his best.

If you need a reminder of that, look at his first career touchdown pass from last year:

As soon as South Carolina figured out that Peters was one read and done, Michigan’s offense stalled. And let’s be honest. It’s not like the Wolverines were marching down the field when they were up 19-3. They benefitted from some favorable field position, Quinn Nordin’s field goals and some nice running from Karan Higdon.

Once again, the Wolverines were winning despite subpar quarterback play. Eventually, that caught up to the defense when Peters and the offense couldn’t sustain drives.

Goodness. We’re talking about a Michigan offense that had one play of 20-plus yards all game. Even when Patterson and the Ole Miss offense was trucked by Alabama this year, he completed three passes of 20-plus yards.

If that doesn’t tell you what you need to know, I don’t know what does.

Michigan is going to continue to lose to quality teams if it continues to accept mediocrity at the quarterback position. Plain and simple. There’s a reason that the Wolverines only beat one team with a winning record all year (7-6 Purdue). It sure as heck wasn’t because of Don Brown’s defense.

And yes, Donovan Peoples-Jones dropping that punt didn’t help, nor did the personnel miscommunication that led to a fumbled handoff by Peters. There were plenty of plays that Michigan wished it could have back.

But there’s no way they blow that game with quality quarterback play. Averaging 4.2 yards per attempt is not quality quarterback play.

Harbaugh tried to motivate Peters by making it seem like this was some big audition for him to win the starting job. Of course he would say that. And of course he’s going to continue to make this seem like it’s actually a quarterback battle. He’d be foolish not to.

Just know that no matter what he says, it won’t change what we already know to be true. Patterson is significantly more developed than Peters as a quarterback. No amount of offseason reps will convince me otherwise. Monday was telling. It told us that Peters has a long way to go to actually become a solid college quarterback.

It was a bad final impression of Peters heading into the offseason. The final impression we got of Patterson in 2017 was that his season-ending injury meant he wouldn’t break the SEC’s single-season passing record. That’s reality.

Michigan should be praying for a new reality in 2018 — that Patterson kid better be eligible.