Te'o finished with 1,706 votes (321 first-place) to winner Johnny Manziel's 2,029 (474). The A&M redshirt-freshman is the only first-year player to win the Heisman Trophy in the award's 77-year history.
Te'o's second-place finish tied Pittsburgh's Hugh Green for best among true defensive players. Michigan cornerback/returner/wide receiver Charles Woodson is the only primary defensive player to win the award, taking the 1997 trophy as part of his team's split national championship that fall.
With a win January 7 against Alabama, Te'o and his teammates won't have to share their championship with another school. The victory would give Notre Dame its first title since 1988 and only 13-0 season in program history.
"I came along way. They said that's the most votes a defensive player's ever gotten," said Te'o. "Congratulations to Johnny, he deserves it. He had a wonderful season. I'm just relieved, now its time to get ready for 'Bama.
"Obviously I wish it was my name," he admitted. "For me to just be there was an experience. I just felt the burn. I can't really describe it. I just felt that burn that I have to get better.
"It's motivation. I always wanted to be the best and I'll just use it as motivation to be the best I can be. Obviously I have a lot of work to do and I'm just excited to get back and get things cranking."
Te'o's teammates and legions of Irish fans took to social media to voice their dissenting opinions on the voting results. The runner-up has already moved on.
"I'm telling you guys: Heisman Trophy or national championship, I'll take a national championship 100 times out of 100," said Te'o. "I'm just excited to get back with my brothers. I miss them. It's time for me to go back home and be with my guys."
Te'o noted he normally has three days to study an opponent's film. He has just under 30 days to prepare for the Crimson Tide. "Go back home, get back into the groove of things. Put pads back on, smack around some guys and study a lot of film...I'll get well-acquainted with Alabama," he said.
Before that though, Te'o has one matter of business to which he must attend.
"My final exam is on Wednesday," said the soon-to-be Notre Dame graduate. "I have to turn in two projects, I finished one; I finished half of the second one, and let's see, I finished the third, so yeah, just half of (a project).
"Then I'm a 'Notre Dame Domer' (graduate)."