There really is more parity, which isn't all bad. While having a loss or two every season was the norm, that is no longer the current reality. As I look at ND, OSU, PSU, Wisconsin, and Nebraska, none of those are regularly going to be "guaranteed" wins. And that's not even considering MSU and Iowa, the two teams we lost to this year. Were we to "split" with those seven eams regularly (remembering that we won't play all of them regularly, because of the division split,) that would mean 3 losses a year.
The cyclical nature of recruiting is such that you can't always just reload (unless you're cheating, as noted.) This seems particularly true with the quarterback position. The reality is that when you have 2 & 3 star rated recruits (or even walk ons such as Kovacs) perform at a high level, that can push a team over the top.
It was nice when we were the "Big 2," but only nice for us and OSU. It had to be demoralizing to the rest of the conference to always be much worse. I wonder how level the playing field was when I was a student. Well, there are some things we'll never know.